A judge declared the owner of the Ambassador Bridge in contempt of court Thursday for failing to finish work on a project linking the U.S.-Canada span with two Detroit interstates.
Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards will wait until Jan. 12 to order a penalty, but he wants bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Maroun at that hearing.
The state of Michigan sued the company after it failed to meet a 2008 deadline to finish its part of a $230 million project to improve traffic at the bridge linking Detroit to Ontario. It's the second time that Edwards found the Detroit International Bridge Co. in contempt of his orders to stick to its deal with the state.
"The construction plans for the truck road and the access road do not comply with the requirements of the court orders," the judge said. "Construction plans that meet the requirements of the approved design have not been submitted."
In response, the bridge company pledged to appeal the contempt order. It said piers were properly built and it will finish the Gateway Project by January.
President Dan Stamper, who was briefly jailed this year for failing to follow the judge's orders, said the company is "doing what it is supposed to do" while the state Transportation Department is "consistently being obstructive."
The judge might order Safeco, an insurance company, to complete the job and appoint a receiver to oversee the project, topics that will be discussed at a Dec. 1 hearing.
State engineer Tony Kratofil said the bridge company has done only "superficial" work to follow the judge's previous orders. Without the improvements, he said, trucks are stuck with neighborhood roads.
"That's not in the public's best interest. ... It's time for somebody else to step in," Kratofil said outside court.
The project is not the only dispute involving the state and the bridge company. Gov. Rick Snyder wants to build a publicly financed second bridge between Detroit and Ontario, and Maroun fiercely opposes it. Snyder, a Republican, recently lost a key vote in a state Senate committee controlled by the GOP.
The governor has called for a "cooling-down period" to talk to lawmakers. Maroun's son, Matthew, released a statement, suggesting the judge was allied with Snyder and that his decision reeked of politics.
"Remarkably, Judge Edwards has even ordered my father to appear before him under the threat of being jailed," the younger Maroun said. "We have been bracing for a backlash stemming from the Senate committee's rejection of the governor's bridge. Now we have it."