(Artvoice 15 June 2000)
Peace Bridge Chronicles:
by Bruce Jackson
The Peace Bridge affair is slowly creaking toward sanity. It has squandered a huge amount of financial and human resources that could and should have been applied to more useful things:
What a bloody waste, and all so a few people could make money building and maintaining an anachronistic steel bridge. How much better off we all would have been had the PBA just said early on, “Here’s a list of the people whom we or the people who control us promised will make a lot of money on this; if we can pay them off we can do this decently.” No, we had to go through all this politicking and nit-picking and lawsuiting and squandering. Politics and power. Ugh. Bah.
- the money the county, city, Wendt and Community Foundations put up to operate the Public Consensus Review Panel;
- the money the city, the Olmsted Conservancy, and the Episcopal Church Home put up in their lawsuit forcing the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority to obey New York Environmental law;
- the money the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority spent trying to avoid that obligation;
- the money the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority spent designing a bridge that will never be built;
- the time of everyone involved.
Judge Fahey issued his final order two weeks ago, The order resolved the lawsuits brought against the Public Bridge Authority and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The bottom line is, no new bridge will be built unless and until the Public Bridge Authority undertakes the full environmental impact study it fought long and hard to avoid.
The delay was so the attorneys could complain about fine points of wording or timing (their meters running all the time). The delay doesn’t seem to have accomplished much: the final order was almost exactly what Judge Fahey delivered in early April
Shortly thereafter, Peace Bridge general manager Earl Rowe announced that the PBA was filing a notice of appeal.“The Peace Bridge Authority has taken the first step in its effort to overturn a judge’s ruling that it must complete a more thorough environmental review before building a bridge,” wrote Buffalo News reporter Patrick Lakamp in the first sentence of his June 8 article on Rowe’s announcement.
The sentence was wrong on two counts. First and most obvious, there is no “Peace Bridge Authority” and never has been. The organization is the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority—the Public Bridge Authority or PBA for short. The PBA avoids using the word “public” whenever possible because if it hadn’t been for the public insisting on its rights they would have gotten away with this anachronistic-but-profitable-twin-bridge eat-up-more-of-Front-Park scam. Why every reporter and editor at the Buffalo News except Donn Esmonde continues to support them in that misnomer remains one of the Secrets of Modern Journalism.
More important is what Rowe was really saying and doing. This wasn’t the beginning of an effort to overturn the lawsuit; it’s the end of it. The PBA hasn’t filed an appeal, it has only filed a notice of appeal, which is like getting a paddle at the auction. The auction paddle gives you the option of bidding and the notice of appeal gives you the option of appealing; neither one commits you to doing anything or limits the behavior of anyone else. Actually appealing Judge Fahey’s decision would put things on hold for years, and the guys who control the strings of the five Canadian PBA board members won’t stand for that. They are fairly drooling for the increased profits from those Canadian trucks coming down here full and going back up carrying nothing but bags of American money.
Rowe’s language was conciliatory, full of phrases about working out solutions good for everybody and meetings of interested parties and finding a satisfactory way to get moving again. He hasn’t spoken this way before and I take the diction as data. There are changes in progress at Peace Bridge Plaza.
I think Senator Schumer’s invitation to the Detroit bridge developers to come to town to say how they’d handle things, and the far warmer reception those developers got this time than the last time they came and made their pitch, had exactly the effect Schumer wanted: the PBA realized that just about everyone is fed up with their delays, their attempts to feed Canadian steel and construction companies sweetheart contracts that screw the public, and their arrogant disregard for the public on the American side of the river.
Here’s what I predict: a few more months of attenuating blather and puffery and posturing. While that goes on in public, more and more rational negotiation in private. I bet you a shiny Buffalo nickle that this time next year they’ll be deep into the planning for a six-lane segmented concrete bridge across the Niagara river.
Buffalo Niagara Partnership president and CEO Andrew Rudnick sent Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan a letter complaining about the deportment of Jim Kane, who heads Moynihan’s Buffalo office. Kane, Rudnick said, was “thug-like,” “intimidating,” “negatively irresponsible” [as opposed, I presume, to "positively irresponsible"], and given to engaging in “brutish tirades.” Rudnick told the Senator that Kane “singlehandedly has eroded the respect and admiration this community has for you.”
Rudnick set forth his credentials as someone of social worth and seriousness of purpose in the very first sentence of his letter: “It has been about 30 years since I sat in Sander’s [sic–there is no apostrophe in Sanders] Theater listening to your lecture.” That is Ivy League code for: “I went to Harvard so I’m swell and I went to listen to you back when you were just a professor so you owe me.” It’s a measure of how out of touch Rudnick is to think that Pat Moynihan would turn on a trusted and reliable aide merely because Rudnick belongs to the Club and begins with a bit of soft brown-nosing.
The letter seemed like the petulant grousing of a man who’d been too long on the wrong side of the Peace Bridge issue, was perhaps in a snit because the Board he served was in the process of changing its position, and so he was now just striking out in frustration. The directors of the Partnership must have cringed when they saw it quoted in the News.
Why write a letter attacking a public servant nearly everybody likes to a boss who holds that public servant in high regard over an issue that’s over? That’s just personal vindictiveness. What good does personal vindictiveness do the Buffalo Niagara Partnership?
In my experience with him, Jim Kane has been a consistent source of straightforward and reliable information on the Peace Bridge affair. If he doesn’t know something he says it and if he thinks someone is lying he’ll say that too, which is probably the source of Rudnick’s animus toward him. When the PBA signed the agreement with the city a year ago saying it would take part in the Public Consensus Review Panel if the lawsuits would be put on hold, Kane was the one who called it for what it was: A sham and a stall. At the end, Kane said, the PBA would renege on its promised cooperation and the lawsuits would have to go on anyway, and the delay while the PBA picked engineers and brought them up to speed would only sap energy, waste time, and squander money. Kane was right on every count.
Jim Kane is a first-rate public servant and I hope he stays in government after Senator Moynihan retires next year. Maybe the Buffalo Niagara Partnership will give him Andy Rudnick’s job so that organization will stop endorsing this pettifogging and personal smearing and will regain some self-respect.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE AT THE BUFFALO NEWS
Years ago, a friend who was studying Soviet government policy told me that the import of a story in Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper that was published daily in scores of languages, was often determined more by where the story was placed than by what the words said. The problem was that with all those languages, there was fear that subtleties of political change would get lost in translation, so the Party handled it visually instead. Party insiders around the world were kept up to date on the meaning of locations. If you were reading Pravda and you saw an article praising General X and it was in the lower left corner of the page, say, it meant General X was about to disappear from the scene. The same article upper right meant General X was in the inner corridors of power.
I had to think of that when I noticed the placement in the Buffalo News of the two Peace Bridge stories I’ve discussed here: Andy Rudnick’s grouchy letter to Senator Moynihan was on page B7, below a larger article on skateboarding. The article about the PBA’s notice of appeal was at the beginning of the Classifieds. The physical location of these two stories may indicate a shift in the Favored Son status the PBA has long enjoyed at the News. They’re still calling it by the wrong name, but front page coverage now goes to the proposed move of Children’s Hospital and the bizarre saga of the Commercial Slip. Hooray. It’s about time we got this Peace Bridge issue settled and moved on.
copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson