Peace Bridge Chronicles #46
Artvoice 16 November 2000

Bridge Authority has a Movement
by Bruce Jackson

The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority announced at a Wednesday (November 15) morning press conference that it will obey New York environmental law and undertake the legally-required nonsegmented environmental impact study it has, with great effort and at huge expense, tried to avoid for the past six years.

After nearly seven months of stasis, the Authority decided that it cannot undermine, undercut, or otherwise evade Judge Eugene Fahey’s order that it must treat Peace Bridge and plaza expansion as a single project.

PBA chairman Victor Martucci said the Authority would give up all permits it has received from all American and Canadian government agencies and abandon all current design plans. He said the Authority would work with the City of Buffalo, the town of Fort Erie and community groups on both sides of the border to evaluate environmental aspects of bridge expansion and to consider all reasonable design options.  He said that this time the process would be open to public scrutiny. His remarks  were endorsed and expanded upon by PBA vice-chairman  John Lopinski, Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, Buffalo Common Council President James Pitts and other officials.

This decision comes after extensive negotiations with Erie County and the City of Buffalo, extensive conferring with twin-span supporters in the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and payment of huge legal fees to two Buffalo law firms and to the New York law firm it hired to supplement those two firms in the present negotiation.

The PBA needs easements from the City of Buffalo to begin any kind of construction at Peace Bridge Plaza. The City has refused to issue those easements unless the PBA first conducted the legally-required environmental impact study of the entire project. Recently, the PBA attempted to get the City to promise to deliver those easements as soon as the PBA completed an EIS. The City refused, pointing out that it could not agree beforehand to an agreement that might force it to issue easements for a plan the still-undone EIS might show was harmful to the community or otherwise defective.
Important questions remain unanswered:

— Did the PBA decide to obey the law because it decided it had no other choice or were there deals cut with the city and the county that were not announced at Wednesday’s press conference?

— Did the city, the county and the PBA include the Episcopal Church Home and the Olmsted Conservancy—the two community organizations whose lawsuits stopped the PBA from erecting its costly steel twin span—in all of the negotiations that led to this decision? If not, why not, and what are the legal implications of that?

—Is this anything more than the usual PBA smoke and mirrors, like their pretend-participation in the work of the Public Consensus Review Panel a year ago that turned out to be astute sabotage?

—What, if anything, does this sudden conversion have to do with the elections now going on in Canada and the senatorial election just completed in New York?

—What, if any, deals were made with the American and Canadian steel manufacturers who have for so long counted on huge profits from the manufacture and maintenance of an anachronistic steel bridge here?

—The PBA is presently an organization composed of five Canadians (representing Fort Erie development interests and Ottawa trade interests) who consistently vote as a bloc and three Americans who seem incapable of influencing that Canadian bloc on any vote about anything. Can we trust an organization with that kind of lopsided partisan voting power?

It will be some time before the meaning of Wednesday’s press conference is clear. By now the Buffalo News and the electronic press have told you what the various speakers said at Wednesday’s press conference. In the next few weeks, we’ll do what we can to find out what those speakers really meant.