(Artvoice  4 May 2000)
Peace Bridge Chronicles
Partnership Rethinks the Bridge Issue
by Bruce Jackson

The strong coalition of Buffalo and Niagara Public Bridge Authority twin-span supporters is unraveling.

Two weeks ago, the Buffalo News gave signals that it would begin asking hard questions of PBA members instead of rephrasing PBA press handouts and calling it news.

Last week the board of directors of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership confronted the Partnership’s increasingly alienated position from the community on Bridge issue.

One board member pointed out that the PBA’s insistence that its twin span was the fastest way to go had been mooted out by Judge Eugene Fahey’s decision forcing the PBA to give up its artificial segmentation of the bridge and plaza projects and mandating an environmental impact
study. Another said the consulting engineers’ report submitted to the Public Consensus Review Panel indicated that the choices were perhaps not as clear-cut as they had seemed previously. Another said, “We’re holding a losing hand here.” Another said, “We’ve got to convince the PBA that appealing Judge Fahey’s ruling won’t accomplish anything and it will just waste two more years.” And another said, “The problem is the Canadians.”

He was probably referring to the monolithic Canadian opposition to anything other than a companion span. The mayor of Fort Erie, the premier of Ontario, the Canadian premier, and the Canadian minister of transport all recently importuned Governor Pataki to intercede on behalf
of the twin span. They also urged the PBA to appeal Judge Eugene Fahey’s decision, which would force the PBA to obey New York State environmental law. All five Canadian members of the PBA are appointed by the minister of transport in Ottawa, so they will probably do as they’ve been told.

“We didn’t take a vote,” one board member told me, “but I think the clear consensus was that we should build a six-lane concrete bridge and a new northern plaza. And if we have to go to the Canadians on our knees, let’s go there on our knees. We’ve got to do something to get them to pay attention to all this new information.”

Canadian Consul-General Mark Romoff, a member of the Partnership board, said nothing in response to the discussion. He has been a key behind-the-scenes player in this from the beginning. For some time observers thought that Romoff’s dedication to the twin span reflected
Canadian national policy formulated in Ottawa, but lately some say that the statements by Canadian federal officials were based on recommendations and data from Romoff. “You think Prime Minister Chretien in Ottawa spends his time worrying about bridge design in Fort Erie?” a
Canadian businessman said. “Of course not. That’s what he’s got a consul-general in Buffalo for.”

As always, everything we learn about this affair leads to new questions. Here are some that come to mind:

---Mark Romoff will be key in solving this border problem. Is he willing and able to play that critical role?

---—What will Ottawa do when Romoff reports that the PBA’s principal base of support has reversed its position and now wants a reasoned and open examination of alternatives to the twin span?

—Will the PBA’s obstinacy and delaying tactics force Canadian and US policymakers to consider  another route for Continental One, the proposed Toronto-to-Miami trade corridor? If so, the huge number of jobs supporters insist will come to this region will go elsewhere.

—It seems clear that Continental One will benefit construction and engineering companies and manufacturing and distributing companies. Will any of its supporters now step forward to tell us what benefits will accrue to this region from Continental One and if those benefits will outweigh the environmental damage it will surely cause?

—How will the five American members of the PBA vote at their meeting Friday if a motion is made to appeal Judge Fahey’s ruling? Barbara Kavanagh was not at the PBA’s last meeting and we’ve been told that she has not taken part in Peace Bridge issues because the New York Attorney General was involved in the litigation and she was avoiding a conflict of interest. But what public interest is really being served if that avoidance of conflict of interest means the Americans are always one vote short at PBA meetings?

More to come.

copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson

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