WINDSOR, Ont. - A letter obtained after a US government freedom of information request, for the first time confirms what various critics in Windsor have often charged - that management of the Ambassad...
WINDSOR, Ont. –A letter obtained after a US government freedom of information request, for the first time confirms what various critics in Windsor have often charged – that management of the Ambassador Bridge violates regulations by allowing hazardous materials to be trucked across its span.
The letter, dated Jan. 29 of this year, is from William A. Quade, associate administrator for enforcement and program delivery with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, to Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Company.
“We expect the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) will no longer encourage bridge users to violate the existing routing restrictions,” it says.
The routing restrictions are for the transport of hazardous materials. Regulations ban the bridge from allowing such material as Class 1 explosives, Class 3 flammable liquids, Class 7 radioactive and Class 8 corrosives. In polite and restrained language, Quade says to Stamper “It is important that you understand that the existing route restrictions published in the National Hazardous Materials Route Registry must be obeyed by all commercial vehicle traffic.” The materials, it adds “are restricted and therefore prohibited from travelling on the bridge.”
The letter was obtained and made public by Gregg Ward, vice-president of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, a company that specializes in the hauling, by barge, of trucks carrying HazMat as well as oversized loads. Ward has long crusaded against practices by the Ambassador Bridge, and admonished the US government before the US House’s Committee on Homeland Security’s subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection in June last year that there was essentially no oversight by authorities of the bridge.
Referring specifically to the threat posed by terrorists in the wake of 9/11,Ward advised officials to “consider the dire national consequences of leaving our federal law enforcement agencies without clearly defined legislative authority to control our international borders and regulate the flow of trucking at crucial border crossings.”
As for the letter, it goes on to say that while bridge management might encourage truckers to use the bridge even when carrying dangerous cargo, “motor carriers will be subject to fines and penalties for violating routing restrictions.”
Says Ward of the letter:”This confirms the numerous allegations and media reports that the DIBC is knowingly encouraging the illegal transportation of hazardous material across the Ambassador Bridge.”
Ward dismissed any suggestion he was acting out of competitive motives.
“Absolutely not, they’re not our competitor,” he said. “We do traffic that they don’t do. It’s not us that created these restrictions.”
The bridge company did not make an official available to respond to the letter or Ward’s remarks.
But the federal member of parliament for the area, the NDP’s Brian Masse, said he would immediately take the correspondence up with counterparts south of the border.
“One of the things that I am going to follow up on is making sure that the political bodies of the US understand that this discussion is happening amongst the bureaucratic enforcement team,” he said.
Masse, his party’s border critic, referred to a 2002 Ontario government report which estimated that as many as 7,000 trucks annually may be crossing the bridge “illegally” by violating restrictions. Masse said that such a volume of traffic obviously is “putting the public at risk” for the bridge company’s “own private interest.”
Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, also a longtime bridge critic over this and other issues, didn’t blame truckers for taking hazardous goods across the span. Francis said there were few road signs indicating what materials are prohibited on the bridge and where the truck ferry is located. Truckers, he said, are “just going to where they think is the easiest way to cross, and they were able to do that because there was no enforcement.”
Francis said that has changed in recent months, with signs posted indicating where the truck ferry is located and that it is the designated HazMat crossing. Francis suggested bridge management operates unto itself. And, he said, the bridge appears to be proceeding with plans to build a span to replace its current structure, which dates from 1929, without government approvals.
“They speak of their desire and they seem to be indicating that they are moving forward, yet they have yet to file the complete documents and to file the studies that are required to show how they’re going to do it and how they’ve taken steps to mitigate against any environmental impacts that may result from that.”
Mary Ann Cuderman, chair of Windsor West Truck Watch Coalition, who operates a bakery two blocks from the bridge, said anybody who lives around the bridge “sees it (HazMat) all the time.” She said trucks “have these placards showing and they just come right off the bridge or go on to the bridge, and it just seems to be, nobody stops them or anything.”
Ted Gorski, president of Gorski Bulk Transport of Oldcastle, Ont., just outside Windsor, and former chairman of the Arlington, Va.- based National Tank Truck Carriers, did not want to “second guess” bridge management and said he hopes “they certainly get it resolved.”