(Artvoice  1 March 2001)
Peace Bridge Chronicles #49a
 

Artvoice interview:

Victor Martucci:
"You have to be realistic about these things"

by Bruce Jackson

Victor Martucci was appointed to the board of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority by Governor George Pataki in August 1999. His fellow boardmembers elected him chairman six months later. In late January 2001, he announced that he would resign from the board the following month, at the end of his one-year term as chair. By law, the chair of the PBA is held by an American one year, a Canadian the next, and then an American again. Their recent practice has been for two people to swap the chair and vice-chair back and forth across the border for several years. On February 23, John Lopinski, of Port Colborne, Ontario, who had been PBA chairman three times previously and vice-chair in the intervening years, became chairman of the PBA once more, and Paul J. Koessler, the Buffalo businessman who joined the PBA in November, became vice-chair .

Not longer after Martucci became chair of the PBA, New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Fahey decided against the PBA in its attempt to segregate the plaza and bridge construction projects, which meant that the PBA would have to do what it had tried assiduously to avoid: look at all the implications of various bridge expansion designs at this location. The City of Buffalo refused to give the PBA the easements it needed to begin construction, which meant nothing was going to happen, whether the PBA did the partial or the full EIS. For a time, Martucci was a fierce defender of the PBA’s positions, then, last November 15, he announced that the PBA would give up its plans to fight Fahey’s order in the courts and  would instead mount a full-scale environmental impact study. To ensure that study began at the beginning, he said, the PBA would renounce all construction permits it had received from American and Canadian authorities and the process would be fully open, overseen by a joint committee composed of representatives from the PBA, the Town of Fort Erie, and the City of Buffalo. That announcement, and the actions that resulted from it, mooted out all the opposition.

Everything Martucci has done since that announcement has been consonant with what he said that day. The PBA has mounted a complex EIS operation directed by Parsons Transportation executive Vincent “Jake” Lamb. (Parsons is the parent company of DeLeuw/Cather, the PBA’s longtime maintenance and engineering firm.) Lamb promises the process will have broad public involvement. The tripartite committee has been meeting regularly. Most recently and perhaps most important for giving the public a sense that the project has integrity, they hired Christian Menn, one of the most respected bridge designers/engineers in the world, to join the process as design consultant.  Menn was the engineer who brought agreement to the fractious Charles River Bridge project in Boston, so his appointment at this critical phase of the Peace Bridge War suggests that the PBA is, thus far, keeping its word about an open and fair process. (The appointment has received wide support in the community, most of it immediate, some of it retroactive, e.g.,  former Buffalo News editor Murray B. Light's opinion column in the Buffalo News of February 25, nine days after Menn had been named the PBA’s premier official design consultant.“The authority should take the next needed step," advised Light, "and name Menn its premier official design consultant.”)

Martucci has been willing to talk at length with anyone about his sense of the PBA’s mission, position and conduct. Perhaps his relative youth is one reason for his accessibility and flexibility: he’s 40, about the same age as many members of the New Millennium Group, one of the PBA’s consistent opponents in the Peace Bridge War.

The conversation that follows took place Friday, February 16, at the offices of Collins & Co., the PBA’s public relations agency, in downtown Buffalo. We began our conversation with that morning’s announcement of Christian Menn as design consultant to the PBA. (Martucci’s statements are in Roman type, mine are in italics; the material in brackets are my later glosses.)

B.J.

==============================================
Christian Menn

One of the things that we had discussed when we began this process and put Jake Lamb in place as the manager of it, was, if we’re going to go back and if we’re going to do this process all over again, we’re going to do it right. And why shouldn’t we think big? Why shouldn’t we go out and recruit the best people that we can find to help us through this process? Christian Menn, as you know, is the dean of bridge architects worldwide. His reputation is impeccable. As I understand it, he picks and chooses the projects he works on. So it was a coup for us to convince him to consult on this project. I think it’s very exciting that he’s going to be a part of the project team.

He’s interesting not just for his great design skill or reputation, but for the major project he’s currently involved in, which has some similarities to our situation.

The one in Boston. I drive by it every week. We’re building condominiums in Boston and so I was aware of the project. From my standpoint, what was important about bringing somebody like him in, in looking at the Boston experience, is that he was able to bridge (no pun intended) the differences that existed in that community. It was a highly-charged emotional issue, just as the Peace Bridge issue is here. He was able to combine function and practicality with aesthetics, and that’s what this calls for. And he was able to do that in a way where he made everybody feel like they came away from the process a winner. That’s what we’re hoping he’s going to do here.

I saw in the Buffalo News this morning that he was going to be design consultant but you were going to hire a design firm. Could you explain to me how that’s going to work?

Christian Menn is going to work for the Peace Bridge Authority as the Peace Bridge Authority’s consultant. We also are going through a procurement process for the EIS process and there will be a bridge engineer/architect that will be hired to handle the functions of the bridge engineer/architect through that process. When options are put on the table to be studied, the bridge architect/engineering firm that is hired through the process is going to be the firm that does the analysis of those different options from an engineering and architectural standpoint.

What we want from Christian Menn is, take a look at the crossing, understand the concerns, the challenges, the needs, the requirements of all these diverse groups, and help us develop a concept that best addresses as many of those concerns as possible—so that it gets us as close to consensus as possible and so that at the end of the process people have a result that they can be proud of, that they can be excited about, and that they can walk away feeling confident that the process was open and fair and we got the best possible system that that process could produce because we’ve got the preeminent bridge engineer in the world participating with us.

Someone whose current project is both steel and concrete, so to again use the pun, it bridges the two opposing--

Exactly.

And it’s true, we’re starting from a clean slate now and there are no biases or prejudices toward any one design or any one methodology in terms of construction. This project should yield the best possible system,  given our circumstances and the needs and the desires of the communities on both sides of the border.

What do these two relationships, the one with him and the other with the design firm that will be hired, do your relationship with Parsons, or will it be Parsons?

Jake is from Parsons Transportation and Jake needs the resources and the technical support that Parsons can provide him to do his job as the overall manager. But Parsons Transportation is not going to do the nuts and bolts design work on the bridge. That’s going to done by the architect/engineer that’s hired through the procurement process. Christian Menn is going to be on the conceptual level. Whatever system seems to develop through the process, then it will be left to the engineer/architect that was hired through the procurement process to develop that and design it, make it happen. I guess that’s the distinction. Christian Menn is more on the conceptual side and this other architect–although this other architect/engineer is going to have an opportunity to offer concepts as well—they’re really going to be there for the nuts and bolts of it.
 

A Political Issue

When I came onto the board I was coming in with an open mind. I became convinced that there certainly was a capacity problem, and that the Peace Bridge Authority went through an extensive and involved environmental review. It didn’t make sense to me to throw all that away.

But the defining moments in this whole process were the judge’s decision and the reality in the wake of the judge’s decisions that the City of Buffalo was not going to provide the easements unless we completed an environmental impact statement. At that point it became a new ballgame.

You have to be realistic about those things, and if we’re going to go through process again, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the communities on both sides of the border, we owe it to future generations to do it right, not to think small, to think big, and to try to come up with the best possible project that we can, given whatever straits we have to operate with, both financially and given the nature of the border crossing, and the fact that you’ve got to have a binational agreement on whatever you’re going to build. We should do it right, and we’re going to do it right.

When you came on, I remember you being very strong for the twin span. Did you change your mind or was it just that the judge’s order changed the political reality?

I changed before the judge made his ruling, but the board wasn’t there. In my own mind, I could almost envision us ending up in this place because the City had pulled the easements off the table. Without those easements we can’t build anything. So the judge’s ruling was the most public defining moment in the process, but even if the judge had ruled in our favor, if the City of Buffalo said “We’re not going to provide the easements,” there was nothing we could do to compel them to provide the easements.

What I quickly learned in my time on the board was that this was not just a very simple transportation project, it was a political issue. There are all kinds of competing interests involved and it was going to require a political solution. The political solution is to go back and do this environmental review and do it right so that the public has confidence that no stone was left unturned and that what ends up getting built is the best possible alternative, given all the competing interests that are involved. Whether it was real or not, the public’s perception was that that didn’t happen in the previous process. We can argue that till the cows come home, but why bother? That’s history. We are where we are today and we’ve got to do this thing right.

Did you have any difficulty with the Canadians over this shift?

I think that the problem wasn’t just with the Canadian members, it was other American members on the board, too. They felt very strongly that they had done the process right and they had commitments from elected officials and from the City on the easements, and that there was plenty of opportunity throughout the environmental review which had taken place over five or six years for people to come forward and make the arguments that they were making, in their view, at the eleventh hour—actually the twelfth hour They didn’t see why they should have to go back and do this all over again.

And there were other points of view on the board that view this as an economic development project and they were very concerned that if we had to go back and start from scratch that this process could take five, six, seven years to complete and there would be economic harm done to both sides of the border. Their view of it was not so much that they didn’t like the fact that these objections were being raised at the eleventh hour, although that was part of it, they felt like they did the process right, they came up with a solution that the Peace Bridge Authority could afford to build, and that their mission was to provide a safe and efficient border crossing. So in that view, in that context, they did what they were supposed to do.

Sometimes it takes a little while for reality to set in, and for some people to accept the fact that there had to be a political solution, that it more than just a business or a transportation issue, it was a political issue.

The ground shifted over the years, didn’t it?

Yes. Think about it: a lot of these folks are business people and they’re not used to making decisions and then having to go back and change those decisions because of a changing political environment. They’re used to making a decision and moving forward and implementing that decision. There’s positives and negatives in that kind of an outlook. I guess the advantage I have is that I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve been in government and now I’m in the private sector and so I understood the politics of it, I understand the business end of it. So maybe I was able to see things a little differently.
 

Getting in and getting out

Say more about that.

I graduated from Buffalo State in ’82 with a degree in political science. I interned in Jack Kemp’s office and worked on Eddie Rutkowski’s second campaign in 1983. Then I was the assistant to the director of field operations for Regan-Bush New York in ’84. I traveled around New York and set up a Regan-Bush organization in all 63 counties of New York. I went to work for Eddie Rutkowski after that, till he lost, and then I went on to the state senate [working for state senators Walter Floss and John Sheffer] from that. I was a political junkie, I thought I’d be in government forever.

Then I got smart. Something hit me in head: I decided I’d rather be in a business where my future depended on what I did as opposed to somebody else having to get reelected. I got into the advertising business with Bob Davis, who’s the Republican chairman now, and then ended up with Marrano-Marc Equity, my first client when I worked for Bob Davis’s ad firm.

Our company is an exciting company to be with. When I started at Marrano/Marc Equity in 1995 we were a $24 million company. Last year we grossed $104 million. And we’re growing. We’re doing condominium conversions in Boston, Massachusetts, we’re doing stuff down in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, we’re doing business here.

That really is the primary reason why I had to step down. When I became chairman of the Authority, I had no idea how much time it was going to require. It really does require a lot of time if you’re going to do it right. At first, I was able to juggle all the competing interests, but as our company has grown, we’ve reorganized and struggled with how we’re going to deal with our growth. My workload has doubled in just the last two or three months. In addition to traveling to Boston once a week, I’ve been traveling down to Florida on a regular basis. I’ve got three young kids—my kids are nine, five and two. Whatever free time I have, I’m going to spend it with my kids. I don’t like to do things half-assed, so if I can’t spend the time that the Peace Bridge Authority needs, then I’m not doing anybody any favors by being involved. I just can’t put the time into it that I have over the last year, so it’s time to let somebody else who does have the time and the passion to step in.

It also has a lot to do with timing. If you had told me five months ago that the process would be where it is today, I would have told you that you’re nuts. I feel really good about where it is today, with the formation of this partnering group, and with Jake Lamb being in control and running and managing the process, and now having Christian Menn come in as a consultant. I feel really good about walking away now feeling like this this is set up to succeed. And I think it will. I’m optimistic about it.

Are there any other reasons why you’re leaving?

Absolutely not. In fact, it was a hard decision for me to make. I really enjoyed it (believe it or not) and I felt like I was accomplishing something. I really wanted to see it through to the end, because I’ve put a lot of time into it and a lot of effort into it, and there was some personal sacrifice. A lot of people called me names, and were thinking that I was the devil incarnate, and sometimes those are difficult things to deal with. I wanted to see it through to the end, but I just couldn’t do it. I just don’t have the time to do it. And if this thing is going to work it has to be driven by the board of directors, and it has to be driven by the chair and the vice-chair and it requires the time that I just don’t have any more.

Could you tell me how you got on the board and how you got to be chairman so fast?

I got on the board because of my relationship with Bob Davis and the governor’s office. There was a vacancy created and they called me and asked me if I’d be interested in serving. I said “Yes.” I’d told the governor’s office that I was interested in serving on a board if something became available. I’ve always believed that you should do some community service. When the community’s good to you and you make a good living, you should put something back. I had made it known that I was interested in doing something. This came along and so I jumped at it and said, “Sure, I’d be happy to.”

I kind of got drafted to be chairman, I wasn’t actively seeking it at the time. When Brian Lipke made the decision to leave the board, they came to me—Luiz Kahl and Lou Billitier and the others that were serving with me on the board–and asked me if I would do it. You’ll have to ask them why or what they saw in me, but they asked me to do it. I thought it was a neat opportunity to try and make a difference because things were floundering at the time, so I jumped at it.

$150,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money....

Do you have any sense of where things went wrong in all this?

It’s hard for me say because I honestly didn’t know a heck of a lot about it other than what I’d read in the newspaper until I got on the board and really dug into it. I went back and I read a lot of the documents that were put together through the environmental review process over the years. I think a lot of things happened.

I think that the board did what the board really believed was the right thing to do. That is, they felt their mission was to provide safe and efficient transportation across the border, they felt very strongly that there was a capacity problem, they knew that they were limited in what they could afford to do. And they felt like they went through a process that led to a solution that they could afford to build.

When I went out and met with the New Millennium folks, with Jeff [Belt] and Bill Banas, and Mark Mitskovski, I said, “You know, try to put yourself in their shoes for a minute. They really didn’t have any sinister motives. Put yourself in their shoes. Could you imagine that they went through this process and they came out and they said, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got a capacity problem. And we’re going to build a new six-lane cable-stayed bridge. And in order to do that we’re going to tear down the historic Peace Bridge. And we don’t think that the American plaza works. We want to move that plaza to the north, and in order to do that, we’re going to take about 300 homes and 100 businesses. And, oh, by the way, we’re going to need about $150,000,000 of taxpayers’ money to make it work.’ What do you think the reaction of the public would have been to that?”

They did what they thought was in their charge to do. There’s plenty of blame to go around. A lot of these folks that got very active and very vocal at the end were not very active and very vocal early on. For whatever reason. But they weren’t. Had they been active and vocal during the initial process, then maybe we would have ended up with a different result. So I don’t think it’s fair to put it all on the Peace Bridge Authority. I think there were plenty of mistakes to go around.

But that’s, as I said, history, and I don’t like to dwell on that. I like to look at the future and I feel very confident and very optimistic that we’ve got a process in place now that the board is committed to that’s going to work, that’s going to lead to a result that the community can be proud of and be confident in. It will be a legitimate solution because it will have been done in the right way. At the end of the day, I think if people can walk away from the process feeling that way, whether they got what they wanted or not, I think that’s what’s important.

Two CEOs

Any difference between working with the PBA and working in private industry?

In our business, we don’t have a board of directors. We’re a privately held company, so it’s a much more autocratic type of organization. Here, not only do you have a board of directors, but you have  two officers on equal footing [the Authority has two General Managers—Earl Rowe, a Canadian, and Stephen F. Mayer, an American], and you have a binational board of directors that doesn’t always have the same interest. That becomes a difficult thing to manage.

But if everybody respects each other and respects their opinions and you’re not afraid to have open and honest debate and your officers and your staff give you good objective advice, then you make the best decisions you can make. As long as you don’t allow it to become personal and you don’t take this view that ‘my view is the right view and the hell with the rest of you.’ [If you did that] you’d never get anything done over there. So from that standpoint, it’s hard to do. Most successful companies don’t have two CEOs. But by the virtue of the fact that it’s a binational agency, you have to make that work.

It’s a challenge. I’ll be honest with you, It’s a challenge. But I think we’ve made it work, at least in my time there.

I had a real short learning curve. I had a lot to digest and a lot to understand, and you know, you have to learn things for yourself. Because it’s human nature, people are going to tell you something, and what they tell is going to be—I don’t want to use the word ‘tainted’ because that’s a negative word—it’s going to have the wrong personal bias interjected into it. So at some point you have to be able to sift through the bias and look at what’s objective and what’s fact and then come to your own conclusions. That took time. It took time for me to understand what was fact on the engineering end of it and the economic end of it and whether we’re doing as good a job as we can do managing traffic with what we have. Then there’s the politics of it. As I said before, it was a political issue and it required a political solution, so I had to understand who the players were and what their interests were and all of that took time. But I think once I was able to wrap my arms around it and understand what was going on and came to the conclusion myself that I thought the best path for us to go down was to do this environmental review and do it right, then it just was a matter of time before I was able to talk to people on both sides of the border and convince them that that was the direction we should go in.

Detroit

Can you talk a little bit about the Detroit bridge group, what they’re up to, how they relate to you.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with them. They’re going to have the same opportunity as anybody else to come into the process and put an option or a solution on the table to be studied. I think the process will determine whether or not their proposal has any merit. Beyond that, I’d feel uncomfortable commenting on it because if this is really going to be a true, fair and open process, we can’t go into it with a bias one way or the other. I don’t want to say I like what they’re saying, I don’t  want to say I don’t like what they’re saying. It’s not for me to take that position today. But I can promise them that they’ll get a fair hearing, like everybody else will.

Politicians

What about the involvement of various politicians in this—Moynihan, Schumer—is that problematic for you? Do you feel they’ve dealt with you fairly reasonably or–

I never had a conversation with Senator Moynihan and I never had a conversation with anybody on his staff.  That’s the truth.

Jim Kane? [Before becoming the Buffalo representative of the Detroit Bridge Company, Kane headed Moynihan’s Buffalo office.]

Jim Kane never called me, never asked to talk to me. This is what mystified me because here I am, a guy coming in with an open mind and a clean slate. Jeff Belt, too. Joel Giambra introduced me to Jeff. I said, “I want to hear your side of the story. I have no preconceived notion, I have no predisposition to any one side or the other. Tell me why you’re right.” And I never heard from him again. Chuck Schumer called me. I had two or three conversations with him personally, but nothing from Moynihan’s people.

So you wonder if they’re really out there trying to help or if there’s some other agenda. Because I don’t think I ever gave anybody the impression that I wasn’t open to listening or to talking to anybody. In fact, when I became chairman, I reached out to a lot of these folks. I met with Sam Hoyt, I met with the New Millennium Group, I met with the Episcopal Church Home people, I had conversation with the Olmsted people. I went and reached out to those folks, but they were reaching out to me too, so it was mutual. But I never had any contact with Senator Moynihan’s office.

Canadian and American agendas

Did you have any relations with Alan Gandell? [Gandell recently resigned his position as head of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.]

Never met him, never met him.

Did you ever talk to anybody up there?

We had a meeting with those folks in December, I think. But that was after Alan Gandell left. We were talking about things that we could do even though we’re acknowledged competitors, things that we could do together to help manage the border crossings on a regional basis, if we could share technology and make sure that we’re communicating with each other. Like if we’re going to be closing down a lane to do some type of repair work that we notify them so they’re preparing from a staffing perspective to handle the increase in traffic. Things that we should be doing. This is a region and we have a common interest even though we’re competitors, so we sat down and talked about those things.  But prior to that, I had never any contact with those folks.

Some people, as you know, have been suggesting that a possible solution to some of the border problems would be to shift the truck traffic out of Buffalo. How does that seem from your point of view?

Well, again, without saying anything that biases the process, I think from a logistics standpoint and from an operational standpoint, and an environmental standpoint, it makes all the sense in the world. It just doesn’t make sense to have the functions split the way they’re split. I think that’s part of the problem, why you have the congestion that you have. If we were able to move those functions over to the Canadian side where you have a much bigger plaza, that makes sense to me.

Have there been any steps towards setting up an international zone?

That was where we were heading before the Federal lawsuit was filed. We were in the process of trying to settle the Fahey decision, and what we were looking at doing was moving the operations over to Canada, which would have satisfied the Olmsted Conservancy’s interest of reclaiming parkland. Then we would have been moving our operations off the plaza. One of the scenarios we were looking at was taking over the Episcopal Church Home for our administrative building, and that would satisfy what the Episcopal Church Home wanted to do. But when the Federal lawsuit came down, that put all that to a halt.

So right now, there’s nothing in the works in terms of an international zone, because I don’t know if the process is going to determine if that’s the best solution. We’re starting with a clean slate and we’ve got to get through the scoping process. Once you get through that scoping process and you get to the draft EIS stage, I think you’re going to see some options begin to crystalize. And then that’s when you need to start doing the legwork to see what’s practical and what’s possible and what’s not.

One of the things I’ve had a hard time understanding is the relationship of the PBA to the government of Fort Erie. It seemed that the relationship on that side is very different from the relationship of the PBA to Buffalo. And it seemed that a lot of the problems resulted from two very different conversations going on on the two sides of the river.

I think what’s important now is that for the first time you’ve got a mayor and a county executive that are working together and they’re working together with the governor, so now you’ve got the three key players on the American side and they all share the same agenda. And for the first time we’re getting clear direction at the Authority as to what our elected officials want us to do. We didn’t have that before.

Sam Hoyt said to me, “Maybe this is just my perception and it’s not reality, but I gotta say it, the perception is that the Canadians run things over there.”

And I said, “Sam, you know what? To a certain degree that’s true but let me tell you why.” And I went into this. I said, “Look, the Canadians have a master plan. They have a regional economic development plan, they know how the Peace Bridge fits into that plan. Their board members get very clear direction as to what their objectives are and what their goals are and how the Peace Bridge fits into that. We weren’t getting that. We’re getting it now, but we weren’t getting that. So eventually, decisions have to be made, and because the Canadians have their act together and we don’t, the decision is made and it looks like it’s built towards the Canadians.”  Sam thought about it and said, “That’s a valid point. I think you’re absolutely right.”

Now we’ve got the mayor and the county executive and the governor all working together with a common agenda and for the first time they’re giving clear direction as to how the Peace Bridge fits in to what the mayor and the county executive envision, and what the governor envisions for regional economic development plan. And clearly this process is in the best interest of what Tony Masiello and Joel Giambra and George Pataki want to accomplish. And all of that will factor into the process. If we’d had that two or three years ago, maybe that perception wouldn’t have been there.

What is it that the governor is saying to you now that was not being said before?

It’s not that the governor wasn’t saying anything. The governor really was taking a hands-off approach because there was no clear consensus from the community. The governor’s philosophy has always been a bottom-up type philosophy of government that home rule should rule and the locals should decide what it is they want, that it’s not the state’s place to impose on them. The problem was that the locals couldn’t agree. So now that you’ve got the mayor and the county executive and the governor all pulling in the same direction—and Jim Pitts, too. Jim Pitts is being very cooperative in this whole process with the mayor. So even though you don’t have a monolith in this city—you’ve got to deal with the administration and the council—it’s been much easier to deal with in the last few months because Jim Pitts and Tony Masiello put whatever political differences they have aside and they’re working together on this thing. I’ve seen that in our partnering discussions. So that’s going to help.

Doing this thing right

Do you have a time sense for what happens next?

I think if everybody works together, like they are now, and I think this partnering group could really ensure that that happens—

By ‘partnering group’ you mean—

Fort Erie, the City of Buffalo, and the Peace Bridge Authority. The Public Bridge Authority.

I was waiting for the end to remind you of that.

[The legal name of the organization Martucci chaired is the “Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority,” but its boardmembers and officers, most of its press releases and other public documents, its web site and its answering machine refer to it as the “Peace Bridge Authority,” a misnomer the Buffalo News has formally adopted and further propagated. In my Artvoice articles on the Bridge, I’ve frequently argued that the shift in terminology is also a shift in content, that taking “public” out of the title reflects the PBA’s preference that the public know as little about its operations as possible.]
See, I read your stuff.

I think it could be done in 2 ½ years.  I really don’t see how it’s going to be done quicker than that. A lot of the stuff that was done in the Public Consensus Review Panel process is going to have to be updated. The engineering analysis that was done through that process was not very detailed and not to the level that the EIS process requires. The only real hard look was our plan because we had bid it out. I mean, that was the only one of the options that was studied through that process, that you could say with any certainty, “This is what it was going to cost to build and this is what it was going to take to build.” The others were very superficial looks because of time and because of money. That was one of the fallacies that came out of the process, that they could say with any degree of certainty that this is cheaper and this can be built faster. That really wasn’t the case. But who knows, that may end up being the case after you go through this process, and if it is, why wouldn’t we build it? I’ve always said that. If it can be done faster, cheaper and better, that’s what we ought to do. We shouldn’t be afraid of that.

My hope is, and this is really the big thing for me, is that everybody who has an interest in this process is going to respect everyone else’s opinions, and not to assume that there’s any hidden agenda or any sinister motives. I want people to feel confident in knowing that the Peace Bridge Authority is going to do this thing right. We’ve done some things over the last few weeks that I think should lead people to that conclusion. I understand: Don’t only tell me in words, show me in deeds. Hiring Jake to manage the process—Jake Lamb is somebody that is respected by everybody on both sides of the border. Bringing in a guy like Christian Menn, who brings world-class credentials to this project. That should show the community that we’re serious about doing this thing and doing it right.

We’re going to strive to come up with the best possible bridge system that this process can produce and that people can feel confident and proud of at the end of the process. Everybody’s going to have their day. Everybody’s going to have the opportunity to say their piece. My hope is that it’s done in a civil way and in a respectful way and everybody respects everybody else’s opinions and when decisions are made, that people rally behind the decisions that are made.

Because as a community, I think that we need to mature that way. I think once we go through the process, we need to understand that the process is over and it’s time to build a bridge. If the process says we should build a bridge. It may say that we don’t even need to build a bridge. Who knows?

This bunker mentality

One suggestion has been to change the composition of the board so that there’s some local Buffalo representation on it.

I think that was largely the result of the mistrust and the dissatisfaction that built up over a period of time because of how the whole process degenerated. But I think we’ve moved beyond that now. I really think if you talk to the mayor and to Jim Pitts and to others, there’s a better comfort level and a higher degree of trust now between the Peace Bridge Authority and elected officials on this side of the border. I think if there is. I think it eliminates the necessity for doing something like that. I just think it’s a two-way street.

I said this to Sam Hoyt. I picked up the phone and called Sam. I went to one of his fund raisers. He was shocked when I showed up at his fund raiser. I said, “Sam, I read about what you have to say about me in the paper and letters that are going back and forth. Why don’t you ever call me? You and I are contemporaries. We’re the same generation. Maybe we have a difference of opinion on this thing, maybe we don’t. How do we know? We’ve never bothered to sit down and talk.” So I took him out. We went over to Pilot Field one day and had a hot dog and watched a couple of innings of a baseball game and found out we agreed on more than we disagreed on.

I think that’s what has to happen through this process. You can’t get into this bunker mentality like it’s us against them. It happens on both sides: it wasn’t just the board on the Peace Bridge, it was on the other side too. People have to reach across the table and sit down and listen to each other and find areas where you can agree instead of just constantly sniping at each other. And that’s what I tried to do in my year as chairman on the board.

That mistrust was a key factor.

Sure it was. And that kind of thing really snowballs out of control because then it becomes personal and people get their guard up and their egos up and eventually they’re not talking to each other, they’re talking at each other, and they’re doing it through the press. What gets accomplished when you do that?

And they’re also looking for the hidden meaning in everything.

I understand that to a certain degree. You’re never going to eliminate that. It’s human nature. I know that. And I guess maybe that’s why it didn’t get under my skin as much maybe it did others. But, after I had lunch with Jeff Belt and Bill Banas, we all said, “Why didn’t we do this before? We agree on more than we disagree on.” I don’t know why things get out of control the way they do.
 
 

copyright 2001 Bruce Jackson
 

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