Windsor Mayor may use truckers to blackmail the province, feds

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WINDSOR, Ont. — Anti-government protestors have done it and so have terrorists.

But will Windsor Mayor Mike Hurst actually go through with a plan to blockade rigs rolling off the southwestern tip of the 401 to keep them from entering his city?

His plan is to declare a state of emergency and block U.S.-bound trucks from entering Windsor if the province and the federal government don’t respond to the city’s demands for “immediate attention.”

The Mayor is demanding the federal and provincial governments hand over $1.2 million so the city can install sensors at streetlights along Huron Church Road to allow the traffic to move more smoothly. He is also asking for signs to be placed along the provincial highway informing truckers to keep on the international truck route — Hwy. 401 to Hwy. 3 to Huron Church.

The problem of truck traffic gridlock recently has spread from Huron Church to core city streets, like Wyandotte Street West, as truckers attempt to find a short-cut to the Ambassador Bridge. In recent weeks they’ve been trying to enter the bridge from the back entrance off Wyandotte. About 30 per cent of those truckers are coming from local auto parts manufacturers, the mayor says, while the rest are driving out of bounds.

Clearing local streets will have the added benefit of making it easier for local companies to get their goods to the U.S. market, Hurst acknowledges. The truck route belongs to the City of Windsor and “it should be there for the benefit of Windsor businesses and Windsor people.”

Hurst is giving the province until early next week to implement a plan that would have international truck traffic diverted to a holding area, possibly at the Ministry of Transportation inspection station on Hwy. 401, just outside the city limits, while awaiting clearance to proceed to the Ambassador Bridge.

“Unless immediate attention is given to the … issues, I will have no alternative but to consider declaring an emergency within the context of the Emergency Plans Act or other actions as I see appropriate and necessary to deal with this crisis situation,” Hurst writes in a letter to the provincial government.

The Mayor estimates it would take about 70 police officers and 15 cars to man the entrances to the city on a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day basis.

“If it requires extraordinary action … I’m prepared to take that extraordinary action,” Hurst tells local media. “There is nothing in the short term that suggests the situation is going to be relieved.”

The city has authority to act under its Emergency Preparedness Plan, Hurst says and the province may be required to pick up the tab for the additional policing resources required to carry out such drastic action.

Hurst has also notified federal Minister of Transport David Collenette and Essex MP Susan Whelan, minister of international co-operation, about his plan.

Should Hurst go through with the outrageous scheme, Ontario’s premier is the only official who can override the mayor’s direction and declare an emergency over. But, local officials are quick to point out that has never happened before.

A spokesman with the transportation ministry says Windsor’s demands have been received and the government is looking at doing something “in the short term.” But he offered no specifics.

“We’re looking at (Hurst’s) letter now.”

Windsor’s deputy police chief Roger Mortimore is working on the logistics if police officers are required to put up roadblocks at city entrances.

He explains there are about 15 legal truck routes into the city that would have to be blocked by police officers, but he wouldn’t go into details as to where those extra officers would be found. The police force has a total of 425 officers.

One of the challenges to attempting such a dramatic course as Hurst sees it, will be to prevent trucks from exiting the 401 outside the city limits and getting onto Hwy. 2 leading into the city.

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