Depth of Michigan DOT campaign against Ambassador Bridge company revealed in 2009 lawyer's report (ADDITIONS)
By Peter Samuel
The depth of Michigan DOT senior officials' determination to destroy the reputation of the Ambassador Bridge company (DIBC) people, and their animus, is reported in a lawyer's letter from 2009. The lawyer Kenneth C Harrison was working at the time for Walter Lubienski who owned strategically located land in the middle of the planned expanded plaza area and ramps of the Gateway project.
Lubienski was involved in a three-way tussle over having his land 'condemned' by the state DOT or getting bought out by the bridge company.
Attorney Kenneth Harrison tells him in the previously undisclosed letter (Sept 16, 2009) that Michigan DOT's top lawyer Robert Mol "is very interested in educating the Judge... about what lying, evil beings the DIBC and their lawyer are."
DIBC weren't a party in the case between Lubienski and MDOT, but Mol representing MDOT let loose at the bridge company to Lubienski's lawyer saying he hoped to use the case to poison the mind of the Judge against it.
The judge in question was Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards who has gone on to handle the long running legal saga between the bridge company and MDOT that has involved extraordinary jailings of top bridge officials - earning him the moniker Jailin Judge Edwards.
The jailings case is in the Michigan state court of appeals today.
Harrison also says in the letter that "Mol (MDOT lawyer Robert Mol, an assistant state attorney general) and the MDOT claim to absolutely hate the DIBC."
In order to punish the bridge company Lubienski's lawyer quotes MDOT's Mol as:
- threatening the DIBC with "a $34m payback if they don't comply" (with MDOT wishes)
- "all but offering to lay down" (concede) a compensation claim
- suggesting Lubienski rather than DIBC run duty-free business
- enjoying that MDOT having pulled DIBC's surety the DIBC people are made "crazy"
- refusing to open highway ramps serving the bridge "until DIBC comes to heel"
Lubienski and the bridge company settled and he was bought out for the company's portion of the gateway plaza. Part of the deal was he would turn over their files from his dealings with MDOT on his property condemnation case.
The letter here comes from those files.
The letter supports the notion that Michigan DOT has pursued a Mol-orchestrated legal/PR campaign to blame the bridge company for the failure to complete the gateway plaza by:
- using jersey barriers to deny truckers and other motorists direct access to the plaza from the interstate via completed ramps
- delaying construction of ramps to which they were contractually committed in the DIBC-MDOT agreement
- then using shills in the local media to blame the bridge company for MDOT's actions in sending trucks through local neighborhoods
- claiming old concept plans somehow constitute a contract rather than approved detailed working drawings
- demanding demolition of construction on bridge company property built according to detailed drawings and in use for two years
- persuading a county judge to issue summary judgement (not hear the merits of a case) and to enforce MDOT's current wishes with contempt of court charges if they resist
- escalating the conflict, jeopardizing the judge's career and reputation by leading him into arbitrary orders including the indefensible jailings of bridge company officials
"Feds give permit" - MDOT's make-believe theater for local press
January 25 Michigan DOT staged another bit of make-believe for the dutiful local media in its ongoing PR battle with the Ambassador Bridge company, issuing a press release headlined "FDOT allows MDOT to proceed with Gateway project". It said that "today" the Federal Highway Administration "gave the state the go-ahead" to build a missing ramp (S32) to convey trucks to go directly from the bridge plaza to I-75.
In the January 25 announcement MDOT director Kirk Steudle was quoted as thanking the Feds for allowing them to move forward, clearly claiming that FHWA permits had been the source of delay.
In the wake of the jailing of two top bridge officials January 12 the local media had been blaming the bridge company for the missing 4-span ramp S32 section, complete with interviews with local people about the misery they suffered at the hands of the heartless company forcing all the big trucks through neighborhood streets.
Most notoriously the Detroit Free Press January 14 used the missing S32 ramp as the basis for the headline "Moroun's unfinished ramps force trucks into neighborhoods, disrupting community" when of course it was a missing MDOT ramp.
When it suddenly became clear that the "unfiinished ramp" indignation was misdirected, and this was an MDOT failure to build, MDOT scurried to find scapegoats - first the bridge company not conveying land (they'd only recently asked for that and had had easement rights to build since 2007) and then, second, waiting to get permission from the Feds.
Waiting on the Feds for permission conjures up the inpression of many months of waiting. At the least weeks.
In fact the letter of permission was provided by the Michigan division administrator of FHWA the very same day (January 24) that it was asked for by MDOT. And it was a perfunctory three sentences.
Marc Lemon former FHWA chief counsel describes it as "clearly a canned letter, written for public consumption" as a favor to MDOT since it was an MDOT fiction that FHWA was holding up the work. (see nearby the two same-day letters.)
The local MDOT shills and suckers played along however.
The Detroit News headline, Jan 26: "Feds' go-ahead may clear snag on Gateway ramp work, MDOT says it has OK for critical part of $230M project at Ambassador Bridge"
Detroit Free Press, Jan 26: "MDOT OK'd to work on bridge ramp; it may ease Gateway Project"
The Mol method of making easements an issue by going after them again and again
The January 24 letter by MDOT to FHWA purporting to ask for federal permission to proceed with ramp S32 now that "DIBC has recently transferred property rights for those parcels physically necessary to complete construction of Structure 32" (S32) throws in the statement that: "MDOT continues to pursue legal recourse to obtain the remaining property rights for this project from DIBC."
We asked around today what "remaining property rights" remain to be gotten by MDOT given that MDOT issued formal certification in connection with contract advertisements back in March 2007: "This certifies that MDOT has legal and physical possession of all right of way required for the construction of this (Gateway) project..." (except for two landlocked Lubienski properties in the middle of the expanded bridge company plaza that were the subsequently bought by DIBC.)
Despite the March 23, 2007 certification that all right of way was clear, MDOT's lawyers are making an issue of easements even today, asking for new easements. DIBC say they'll give easements requested, but that some are delayed by MDOT not providing the legal details.
Build first, get more easement later
Lack of easement rights never stopped construction where MDOT wanted to build - attested to by their post-construction easement requests for parcels in yellow on the map. They still issue requests for easements from DIBC where ramps have long been built and are in use (parcels 169, 171, 183 on the map below).
Clearly the Mol Method of legal/PR warfare against the bridge company involves:
- saying by signed certification you have full easement rights when you want to advertise construction bids
- building where you want to build knowing the property owner is not going to make an issue
- make lack of easement an excuse where you don't for the moment want to build to comply with your side of the contract with DIBC, and can get away with blaming DIBC for the holdup.
For sheer chutzpah, the Mol Method deserves wider recognition. It is a work of high political art.
EDITOR'S NOTE: this is tough on MDOT and their lawyer Robert Mol. We've asked for their assistance in correcting any errors and welcome their response which we'll be delighted to give equal space.
Harrison on Mol Methods
Of course FHWA OK... letter back Jan 24