(Artvoice  5 October 2000)
Peace Bridge Chronicles #43

The Great Autumnal Peace Bridge Q&A  Part II

by Bruce Jackson

This article and its companion in the September 21 Artvoice consist entirely of responses to questions submitted by Artvoice readers about the operations of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA). The questions are in bold type. Some of them are very brief; some contain comments. None of these questions is me pitching slow balls to myself. Every one is authentic and the texts of nearly all are exactly as they came in. A few were asked by two or more people, so I combined the phrasing. My thanks to all the Artvoice readers who took the trouble to voice their concerns and all the public officials and private citizens who helped me find the answers.

 B.J.
 

I have long understood concrete to be a poor choice of building material, especially in extreme climate conditions.  I have  also been told the Tampa Bridge is not holding up well, and its concrete construction is to blame. Do you have any information about this ?  Also, ironworkers in Buffalo support the use of steel; if the reality is a twin span will use non-local materials and labor, why is this so?  And why would concrete be more advantageous to the local economy?   

Staff members at the PBA have floated this canard about steel being a much better construction material for our severe climate for years, but it’s just not true. Concrete is the construction material of choice for just about all recent major bridges in Scandinavia, the North Sea, and Canada, all places with weather far more severe than ours. The Confederation Bridge, for example, which connects Borden-Carleton on Prince Edward Island and Cape Jourimain in New Brunswick, the longest bridge over ice-covered water in the world (12.9 kilometers long), is precast concrete.(Visit www.confederationbridge.com/en/accueil/index.htm for more information.)

The reason a concrete bridge uses 80% local construction workers is because the bridge segments are cast locally and are then floated or trucked to the construction site. A steel bridge uses at most 20% local workers and almost no locally manufactured goods, unless you consider the steel firms up in Ontario local. There are more jobs in maintaining a steel bridge, but they’re make-work jobs, jobs that are created only because steel is a far less efficient material than concrete for building bridges.
 
I asked Shri Bhide, program manager of the Bridges division of the Portland Cement Association, for help on this.  “According to National Bridge Inventory data, concrete bridges outperform steel bridges.  This trend is true in all types of climates, cold, dry, hot, humid.  In fact, colder climate is better, since concrete's diffusivity, ability to let harmful chloride ions get to reinforcing steel, is lower at lower temperatures. Properly designed and constructed concrete bridges are virtually maintenance free.

“Steel bridges, on the other hand, require regular cleaning, and painting. Fatigue critical steel bridges need to be inspected much more frequently than the mandated minimum two year interval. Concrete bridges are not susceptible to fatigue.  Also, inspection of steel of bridges is more time consuming.  Concrete bridge decks supported by steel girders don't last as long as the same decks atop concrete girders.

“The life cycle cost, which is the sum of initial cost of construction and the recurring cost of maintenance is thus lower for concrete bridges.”

I suppose one might say that Bhide is biased, given that he works for the cement industry, but he backs up his summary comments with primary data gathered by public agencies with no connection to the cement industry. That’s the opposite of the people who spread rumors about the defects of concrete bridges but don’t come up with any data at all to back it up.

I haven’t heard of any problems in the Tampa bridge caused by the concrete.

How much does it cost to maintain the Peace Bridge and who’s getting the maintenance money?

The PBA’s annual report says that maintenance of the bridge system costs about $4 million each year, but it doesn’t say how much of that is for the plazas and how much for the bridge itself. The total has been increasing year-by-year. The prime engineering contractor is DeLeuw-Cather, which has not only done maintenance on the bridge for decades but was also the primary consultant on the steel twin span design. There are many subcontractors involved, some of them local, some of them not; I haven’t been able to get a list of who they are and what they get, nor have I been able to learn how they are selected. Some of the PBA’s most expert critics have long said that one reason maintenance is so high is that there are so many sweetheart deals passed out among political friends every year. We’ll never know the facts about that until there are full fiscal and  management audits of the PBA’s operations, which they’ve never permitted.

To put the PBA’s maintenance expense into perspective, consider this: the Peace Bridge, made of steel, approximately 2500' in length, costs at least $2 million per year to maintain (and probably a good deal more); the Sunshine Skyway in St. Petersburg, Florida, made of concrete, 22,000' in length, has, over the past 10 years, cost an average of $215,000 to maintain. Simple arithmetic shows that the concrete Sunshine Skyway bridge costs $9.70 per foot per year in maintenance while the steel Peace Bridge costs at least $800 per foot per year in maintenance.

Maintenance on the steel Peace Bridge costs about 82 times maintenance on the concrete Sunshine Skyway Bridge!

Some of that huge difference is a factor of age: the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is new and the Peace Bridge is geriatric. Some of it results from the great difference in maintenance costs for steel and concrete bridges: as Shri Bhide explained in the response to the previous question, steel requires constant maintenance and concrete requires almost none. And some of it has to do with management: how lucrative contracts are given out and who is able to get them and whether or not there is any real competition among possible contractors.

I’ve heard that the reason we can’t move the Customs facilities to the Canadian side is that the US Customs agents won’t go unless they can carry their guns and the Canadians won’t let them bring their guns because if an American got trigger-happy on Canadian soil it would be a huge mess. Is there any way around this? If the answer is yes, why aren’t they talking about moving the plaza operations to the Canadian side?

People ARE talking about it. This is one of those options that might become clearer once a full environmental impact study is undertaken.

The answer to the first part of the question is yes, there are ways around it. One point of discussion is whether or not US Customs agents need firearms to do this kind of work on Canadian soil in the first place. When  was the last time you heard of a shootout at a bridge Customs booth? The US already has Customs and INS stations on Canadian soil—if you’ve ever flown to Buffalo from Toronto or Montreal you’ve gone through them, and they work fine. Clearing motor vehicles is more complicated, but where’s a malefactor to go if he or she displeases any of those agents? You can’t back up (all those other vehicles are in line behind you), you can’t go left or right (barricades to the left of you, barricades to the right of you), and you sure can’t go full throttle ahead (the US troops will have time to be ready for you before you reach the three flags at the midpoint of the river). What if some drug-crazed malefactor does something crazy? Call a Canadian cop to help out. This is manageable.

And if it’s absolutely necessary for political or manhood reasons for some of those agents to be armed, there’s plenty of precedent for that too. Every embassy in the world is defined as a plot of land belonging to the home–not the host–country. US Marines, in the most unfriendly places, are armed to the teeth. They are equally armed in friendly places—the US embassy in Ottawa for example. In the coldest season of the Cold War commie soldiers at the commie embassies in Washington, D.C., were all armed to the teeth. There’s nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t been worked out before. This has got to be one of those issues that will be solved in 15 minutes whenever the senior players involved want to solve it.
 
Whatever happened to the Public Consensus Review Panel?  Could it, should it have continued to work as an organized group?  Or was its role subsumed by the old and new litigation?  Or does it continue in whole or in part?  If it came to a stop before the matter achieved a resolution is that a failure or a great push in the right direction? Did the momentum stall when the formal process reported out?  Surely a report was not a goal in itself.

The Public Consensus Review Panel (PCRP) was never meant to be a continuing organization. It had a single function: to find out what bridge and plaza combinations would best serve the interests and needs of all the various individuals and groups (“stakeholders” in the current jargon) affected by the bridge and the two plazas, a job the PBA itself should have taken on but did not. Indeed, in segmenting the bridge and plaza construction projects and refusing to do the legally-required environmental impact study, the PBA deliberately attempted to avoid any input from any groups other than those with whom it already had political and financial relationships. It tried to keep the public at bay while it dealt with cronies. That’s the root of the current mess.

The PCRP invited the town of Fort Erie and the PBA to take part in its work; both refused. The PCRP held public hearings, nearly all of which were broadcast by WNED, and engaged an engineering firm to provide technical advice. On October 13, 1999, the PBA, in a failed attempt to get Judge Eugene Fahey to take no action in the lawsuits filed against it by the Episcopal Church Home, the Olmsted Conservancy and the city of Buffalo, agreed to take part in the PCRP process and to abide by its recommendation. Judge Fahey was, happily, unswayed: he threw out the PBA’s lawsuit demanding that the city allow it to begin construction and he refused the PBA’s request that he throw out the lawsuits from the city, the Episcopal Church Home and the Olmsted Conservancy demanding that the PBA do an environmental impact study.

Then the PBA put the process on hold for two months while it cast about for engineers who would serve its interests. (Some members of the Review Panel later said the real reason for the long delay was tactical, designed to take the steam out of the engineering group that had already begun work. If that was the design it was at least partly successful.)  Those engineers joined the engineers already hired by the PCRP in examining bridge and plaza options, but the PBA still refused to sit at the table. At the end, the two engineering teams came up with a compromise: they recommended moving the plaza to the north of its present location, thereby freeing up Front Park for restoration, and building the steel twin span Fort Erie and the PBA were demanding. The engineers said that they had achieved a political compromise by giving the Americans some of what they wanted and the Canadians all of  what they wanted.

The problem was, the Public Consensus Review Panel hadn’t asked the engineers for a political compromise; it had asked only for technical advice. So the Panel voted to endorse the recommendation for a northern plaza and to reject the compromise recommendation for a twin span. Immediately the PBA dropped into word-play: PBA chairman Victor Martucci said the Panel had promised to endorse whatever recommendation the engineers came up with (which was not true) and since they hadn’t done that, then the PBA didn’t have to deliver on its promise to follow the Panel’s final recommendations. Everything degenerated in press conference he-said/we-said disingenuousness.

Judge Fahey’s subsequent ruling–that the PBA couldn’t go forward with anything unless it engaged in the required EIS–doesn’t itself address any of the issues that the Public Consensus Review Panel focused on. Judge Fahey said nothing about what kind of bridge had to be built, where the plaza should be, or whether there should be an expanded bridge or new plaza at all. He simply said that if the PBA wanted to do any of these things, the PBA would have to obey the law. That was almost five months ago. Since then, the PBA has done nothing.

So, yes, a report was the goal of the Public Consensus Review Panel. The idea was that once all reasonable positions had been given voice and serious attention had been paid to technical matters, then the PBA would take a less closeted view of these matters and would start behaving like a public benefit corporation, which in law it is. I don’t think any of the foundation and public officials who funded the Panel had any idea of the extent of the PBA’s resistance to that idea. They all really thought that if the information were made available, then the PBA would perform in the public interest, they thought the Americans on the board would take an active interest in protecting Buffalo and that the Canadians on the board wouldn’t be so relentlessly self-serving. They were wrong on both counts.

But the long effort accomplished the one thing the PBA most hoped to avoid: thousands and thousands of people on this side of the river had an opportunity to learn what was really going on, and many of them found a forum in which they could let one another know that the choices made by the PBA mattered to them, whether or not they ever crossed that bridge.

How long can the plaintiffs in the lawsuits hold out?  (I recently received a fund raising appeal from the West Side Environmental Defense Fund.)

If the writer means the case in New York State Supreme Court: for a long time. The Episcopal Church Home and the Olmsted Conservancy have long-term interests and they’re not about to fold their tents just because the PBA’s highly-paid lawyers make noises about an appeal they’re almost certain to lose (if they’re not just blowing smoke about filing it, which they probably are). The City of Buffalo will stay in the case as long as the mayor remains convinced that it’s in his political interest to do so.

If the writer is wondering about the case recently filed in Federal court, the answer is: for a while. The attorneys in that federal case have contributed a huge amount of their own time to it. The PBA has deep pockets—whenever they get short of money they just jack up the tolls on the bridge a bit and they’re no longer short on money. Which is to say, they’re taking money from the public’s pockets to fight the public’s attempt to get them to behave responsibly. The plaintiffs have asked for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The PBA is great at stonewalling. It’s your money they use to do it and, other than care and feeding Fort Erie, there is no tradition of public service there. They’ll do whatever they can to starve out their opponents. So my response to the sender of that question is: I don’t know the goodguys can hold out. You got an appeal for help from the WSEDG, so send them a check.

Can you identify exactly what the Parker Truss is and why it is there and why people want it gone? Is it true that the minimum clearance over the Black Rock Canal at the Peace Bridge is 100 feet?  Who makes these rules?  Does this explain the Public Bridge Authority's constancy in seeking to land the bridge(s) at the high Bluff at Fort Porter/Front Park? What is the tallest ship/mast to travel up the canal in the last x years? Can an environmental impact statement change an anachronistic requirement? If you built a bridge at the railroad bridge corridor, how could it clear the canal without help from a bluff? (The existing railroad bridge swings to permit boat traffic.) Is this one of those constraints that requires a bad bridge or is it being used to force a twin bridge that many don't want? Is anyone working on this?
 
Wow.

The clearance issue has nothing to do with one six-lane span versus two three-lane spans. This is perhaps the one part of this mess for which the Public Bridge Authority cannot be blamed.

Almost 75 years ago the US Coast Guard decided that the bridge had to clear the Black Rock canal by 100 feet, and it has refused to revisit that decision ever since. When the matter of a Peace Bridge expansion came up a few years ago, the Coast Guard said whatever replacement went in that slot had to maintain the same clearance. (No matter that no boat or ship requiring anything near that clearance had passed through that waterway in more than 60 years.) The Coast Guard said that sometime in the future a tall ship might once again come up that canal and head out into Lake Erie so everything here had to be geared to that possibility. (No matter that tall masts on modern sailboats plying inland waterways are now hinged so they don’t need that huge clearance anyway.) Bureaucrats make their living thinking about every possible contingency, not about getting from here to there.

An environmental impact study has nothing to do with this because an EIS cannot get the Coast Guard to think about anything. How can an EIS deal with a Coast Guard official who says, “What if they start making tall ships without hinged masts again in 50 years?” How can anybody deal with questions like that?

The first effect of this Coast Guard ukase 75 years ago was that the lovely repeating design of the original bridge was destroyed. The last segment was supposed to be just one more inverted U reaching up to the bank at the Buffalo terminus, but the Coast Guard said that crossing had to be 100' not just in the middle, but all the way across the Black Rock canal. No way one of those graceful arches could do that. So they had to build that ungainly steel box—the Parker Truss—on top, holding the bridge from above rather than supporting it from below, as do the arches going the rest of the back to Canada. The engineers who built the bridge thought their design had been destroyed even then.

It’s not as ugly from the Canadian side because it’s much further away from them than it is from us. They get to look at the curved arches; we have to look at the iron box.

If a truck bridge were built adjacent to the International Bridge, it would either have to pivot, as the International Bridge does now and as will the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington, D.C., or it would have to have the same 100' clearance the Peace Bridge has. The pivot option is workable: the International Bridge has to swing to let a ship pass only a few times a year and the whole operation takes only 20 minutes or so, nothing like the delays truckers experience every time they cross the Peace Bridge now.
 
I was wondering how much money the PBA takes in on the Duty Free shops.  Last Friday the trucks on the US side were lined up so tight outside the barricade to get their booze
that there was only room for one lane of traffic to manoeuver around them.   No one polices this perpetual mess.  So too, none of the fancy computer-generated pictures of the new twin-spans they put out ever show that shoddy building on the American side, hemmed in as it is by broken shards of concrete and littered with filth.

The PBA doesn’t run the shops; it rents them out and collects rent plus a percentage of the gross. It’s difficult to tell from their annual financial statement exactly what their net on the operation is, which is one more reason a real audit by New York comptroller H. Carl McCall is in order. But it looks like they’re grossing $4-$5 million per year.

The computer-generated pictures don’t show any trucks either.

What would it take to dismantle the unresponsive Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority and get some responsible adults to play?

Passage of Sam Hoyt’s recent bills in the legislature modifying the way the PBA does business, adding a representative of the city of Buffalo to the Board, and requiring the PBA to get approval of the city before it engages in any major building jobs would be a good start. It’s a game effort by Sam but political insiders tell me the chance of any major change in the PBA structure coming out of Albany is slim: the Peace Bridge is a money machine, a lot of people in business and politics on both sides of the border and both sides of the aisle reap rich rewards from it as it is right now. Albany has a poor history of interfering with nonpartisan cash cows.

How come neither Hillary Clinton nor Rick Lazio has come out for Buffalo’s interests in this affair?

Because the PBA brilliantly kept this a bipartisan issue. Both Clinton and Lazio are getting money and political support from people supporting the twin span project. One of Hillary’s oldest political friends and supporters is Congressman John Lafalce, who has been in the Canadians’ pocket on this from the beginning. Rick Lazio has his Lafalce equivalents. Since neither of them is going near the Peace Bridge issue, neither of them is going to lose or gain votes by avoiding it. From their point of view, it’s a wash on the votes and in exchange they both get campaign contributions. From our point of view it stinks. Senator Moynihan’s office has tried to interest Hillary in the Peace Bridge but they’ve gotten nowhere. They’re worried that if she’s elected she’ll go wherever her old friend John Lafalce points her on this issue and that if Lazio wins he’ll just go with the big steel interests. Either way, the election seems likely to leave opponents of the twin span weakened politically.

Why would the PBA disclose its intentions prior to the senate vote and swearing in of a new senator?  Won't the absence of Moynihan, Bullock and Kane ease their path?  While it won't change the law requirements, it will change the political environment and thus have an impact on how the federal agencies play through the next round.  Imagine how much senatorial scrutiny the scoping process would have if that were happening now.
 
Asked, and answered.

You keep writing about the Canadian interests in the steel twin span and how Fort Erie has a great interest in the status quo because it’s bought and sold and how the Canadian Federal government has no reason to interfere with all that money going to one of its small towns and some of its steel companies. I can buy all that. But why would the American members of the PBA go along with an operation that serves people on this side of the border so badly? It just doesn’t make any sense. 

I can only speculate about this, because none of those PBA board members talks about such matters to people like me. I passed this question along to someone who has long been involved in both politics and business in this region and this is what he wrote in reply:

The businessmen on the PBA probably get red carpet treatment from the Department of Environmental Conservation and other state regulators in their development projects... that can be huge.  I am sure they milk this a lot. It’s nearly impossible to determine. As you already know, we will never know what really goes on as the board is protected from FOIA.  We were hoping Barbra Kavanaugh was going to start to pry that veil, but she has been a miserable failure on that   score. We really need to pressure the atty general to: TEAR DOWN THAT WALL MR. SPITZER!!!  (Reagan style.). Sam Hoyt is trying to do this legislatively, but it won’t pass. Spitzer, as an atty general, and as a board member, can sue for open meetings and financial disclosure by staff and board members. But he won't do it because he is not being pressured to do so. That is up to us.
When are they planning to do an underwater inspection of the existing structure?

Not until they’re forced to as part of an EIS or they get started constructing a new bridge, whether 6-lane concrete or 3-lane steel. As long as they can avoid an underwater inspection of the piers they can keep claiming that the old bridge will last forever. Once they have data about the real condition of those piers they can make that claim only under risk of perjury.
 
Why have they not accepted the northern plaza option?  Even the Buffalo News pushed that.  Is it because they are still thinking they can frame a negotiation so that they look like they gave a few things and settle?

On December 16, Stephen F. Mayer, general manager for operations, presented to the Public Consensus Review Panel a plan for a northern plaza. It was a very nice plan. He said that the PBA would like to build their twin span now without doing an EIS, then at some unspecified point in the future, if someone gave them the money to build a new plaza, they would swing the end of the bridge to meet the northern plaza. That is, they offered nothing other than building the steel twin span they’ve been committed to all along. He didn’t even explain how you swing a steel bridge weighing a gazillion tons and not the least bit flexible.

The fact is, the PBA has never said it would use any of its massive financial resources to move its operations out of Front Park. There is no incentive for it to do so. Such a move serves the community’s needs and interests, but it is irrelevant to them. At some point the PBA may offer a new plaza as a trade or it will be forced to do it as a condition of expansion but, given its behavior to date, it will never do that merely because it’s the right thing to do.

I've heard a story which, if true, would explain the intransigence of the Public Bridge Authority on the "twin span:" The majority, if not all, of the steel has been ordered AND MANUFACTURED and is sitting somewhere on a Stelco site waiting to be delivered. This report comes to me so many times removed from any authoritative source that I only pass it on as a possible explanation for their  attitude ... but could even the PBA be so arrogant?

The PBA surely could be so arrogant but I don’t think they’ve done it. You can’t manufacture the steel until you have the final design and there are still too many things that might change—even if they get their steel twin span by us—for the component parts to be locked down.. I have heard that there are letters of intent—promises to take delivery of certain quantities of steel by certain dates. Those are necessary because the steel makers and fabricators have to make space for the order in their pipeline and on their lots. The dates on those letters of intent have no doubt been revised several times over the past year as the City of Buffalo and Judge Eugene Fahey blocked the PBA’s construction plans, but surely whatever political deals were made in the allocation of those promises to buy are still out there and those steel companies still want to make their profits on this project, whenever it gets underway.

I’ve also heard that the PBA has paid a good deal of money to lock in the steel fabrication bid prices they got back whenever they thought this was all a lock for them.

Is it true that the PBA takes no tax dollars for its operations?

No, it isn't.

This question was asked each time we’ve announced a Peace Bridge Q&A. (“The Great Summer Peace Bridge Q&A,” May 3 1999 and “The Vernal Peace Bridge Q&A,” 30 March 2000). The next few paragraphs are pretty much what I wrote in response to the question last time around. Nothing has changed: they’re still making the claim, and it’s still untrue.

There’s a pretty little packet of six prints on heavy 8 ½" x 11 stock the PBA sometimes gives away titled “Construction Paintings of the Peace Bridge by H. H. Green.” Green was one of the original incorporators. A note on the inside cover of that packet says, “No public funds have ever been granted or used for construction, operation, maintenance or for capital expenditure. All financing has been done from private and institutional funds.” John A. Lopinski’s Chairman’s Report in the 1997 Annual Report begins, “No public funds have ever been granted or used for construction, operation, maintenance or for capital expenditure. All financing has been done from private and institutional funds.” They say that a lot. It is perhaps the lie they have told more than any other.

The PBA exists entirely on public funds. Entirely. If the public wants to cross the river from the Buffalo into Fort Erie, the public has to pay the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority $2.50 (up 25% from last year) for the right to do it–unless the public is driving a truck, in which case it pays considerably more. Last year the PBA received almost $5 million in rental income, the largest portion of it for space rented at above market rates for use by Customs and Immigration—your tax dollars pay that rent.

 The Authority has been tax exempt since 1934. Tax exemption means the government has decided that what an organization does accrues to the public good, so it doesn’t take from its profits (profits, not income) the share everyone else pays. Symphony orchestras, social service organizations, museums, churches, schools—all such organizations receive tax exemptions. Taxes are monies that belong to the public. If an organization is declared tax exempt, the government is subsidizing that organization to the extent that the organization is permitted to keep and use for its own purposes the funds that would otherwise have been shared by all of us. All organizations that engage in commerce and are tax exempt are recipients of public money to exactly the extent of the taxes they would have paid had they been treated like everyone else. That includes not only the taxes on profit, but also sales tax and real estate tax from which they are exempt. Bonds of tax exempt organizations are themselves tax exempt, which means those bonds enter the market with a competitive edge over bonds from profit-making organizations. That enables the sellers of nonprofit organizations’ bonds to offer them for a lower interest rate, which means the nonprofit gets to rent money more cheaply than you and I do.

Last year, they accepted $2.76 million in grants from the US government to develop a high-speed frequent-traveler lane and an electronic document transmission system. All U.S. government grants come from tax dollars.

Powerful people in those big houses on Nottingham and Meadow and Middlesex and other streets in that area recently forced Nichols and Medaille to back off their plan to turn the old Nichols Middle School campus at Nottingham and Meadow into a branch of the college. They did it because they worried about all those students using new parking lots in their neighborhood at night. How come those same people have done nothing about the PBA’s construction plan, which would send heavy trucks roaring along the 198 for most of a decade?

Beats me.

According to the most recent traffic plans, for as few as four and as many as eight years, trucks would be rerouted along Niagara street, through Delaware Park on the Scajacwada Expressway , and out to the Thruway on the Kensington Expressway. That will not only clog traffic on those routes–neither of which was designed to be a major truck thoroughfare–but will also have detrimental effects on Delaware Park, on housing values in the top-dollar locations bordering the Park, on access to the Albright-Knox, Burchfield Gallery, Historical Society, and Buffalo State College, and more. In general, the quality of life in that part of the West Side and the safety of road use on those two highways will be severely degraded.

Who is replacing the late Buffalo businessman Louis Billitier on the PBA?

I heard two names: Victor Rice, retired head of LucasVerity, and Buffalo businessman and Paul Koessler. I also heard that Rice was vetoed because of his negative remarks about the Buffalo Niagara-Partnership in his Artvoice interview a few months back. It would be nice to think that the people who made those choices read and were influenced by Artvoice, but if Rice were in fact a serious candidate and if his candidacy was flushed out, it didn’t need Jamie Moses’ tape recorder to make it happen. His low opinion of the community role played by the Partnership is well known, which is why he was forced out of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise chairmanship last year. Koessler is a big Republican fundraiser (last week he hosted an event at his house for Rick Lazio that produced $50,000) and a board member of the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership.

Is anything really happening?

Overtly, no: the PBA can’t start construction because the city of Buffalo won’t give the necessary permits and Judge Fahey won’t let them segment the bridge and plaza projects and says they have to do a full EIS. The PBA threatened to appeal, but it hasn’t done it yet. The PBA doesn’t want to do the EIS because it fears careful evaluation of the truck traffic in a populated area might kill the whole deal. So that’s all on hold.

Covertly, things seem to be percolating wildly. There are rumors that the easy collaboration of Canadian and American interests that for so long characterized meetings in the PBA’s board room is fraying at the edges. Peace Bridge general manager for operations Steve Mayer, I’ve heard, is so frustrated he’s been muttering about finding more fulfilling employment. His corporate services counterpart, Earl Rowe, is reported to have snapped at board chairman Victor Martucci, “I don’t work for YOU!” (So who does he work for if not the chairman of the board that hired him?) The five Canadian members of the board are fighting desperately to preserve not only Canada’s steel interests, but Fort Erie’s lucrative franchise. The three active American members (Billitier hasn’t been replaced yet; Kavanaugh doesn’t vote on anything connected with this) are more and more frustrated by the stasis and the Canadian intransigence.

And the center may not be holding so well on the Canadian side either. The current situation developed six or seven years ago when the Canadian economy was weak; that economy is now blossoming and some Ottawa politicians are uncomfortable about this bridge expansion being held up because of political promises made to steel company owners in another financial time, and they’re even more uncomfortable about having their hugely lucrative trade relationship with the United States whipsawed by the parochial interests of the town of Fort Erie.

That’s all rumor—just things I’ve heard. We’ll have to wait to see how much of it is true and if there really are the first cracks in that big stone wall down at Peace Bridge Plaza.
 
 

All prior instalments in the Peace Bridge Chronicles are available online at www.brucejackson.net.
 
 
 
 

copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson
 

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