(Artvoice, 13 May 1999)
 
 

The Trojan Peace

by Bruce Jackson
 
 
 
 

Two proposals for resolving the Peace Bridge War emerged last week, one by Senator Charles Schumer, the other by John Maloney (Member of Parliament, Erie) and Representative John LaFalce (29th district, NY). Schumer outlined a plan that might, for the first time, give everyone a fair voice in the procedure. The Maloney-Schumer proposal represents the first time any Canadian official has expressed any willingness to consider any alternative to the twin span; it is also the first time Congressman LaFalce has advocated a procedure in which signature span advocates could be heard.

These are important statements from three public officials critically involved in this entire process. Here are the two proposals in their entirety, followed by comments on both.

Senator Charles Schumer's Plan
(A letter dated May 4, 1999)

Due to recent events, the plans to build a news Peace Bridge have reached an impasse. I am concerned that the process will become increasingly acrimonious and construction will be delayed indefinitely as the parties become tangled in lawsuits. While there is no consensus on what type of bridge to build, there is a consensus that nothing will be built unless all sides of the arguments-American and Canadian, signature span advocates and twin span advocates-can come to a consensus. The fact is, each side has the power to stop progress completely.

To resolve this dispute, I propose the creation of a binational, independent commission to decide whether a signature bridge can be built at similar cost, in a similar time frame and with similar environmental impact to a companion span. The commission would be comprised of two Canadian members and two American members, with a supporter of a companion bridge and a supporter of a signature bridge from each nation. The commission would have a fixed time frame, at most 120 days, in which to reach a conclusion. During that time, the commission would hold public hearings on both sides of the bridge and listen to area residents, environmental groups, public officials and concerned citizens. The commission would choose independent experts to answer technical questions about the financial, time line, and environmental impact of the twin and signature spans.

Before the commission began its work, but after the four commission members were chosen, all major parties, the relevant Canadian and American elected officials, the advocacy groups, the members of the Peace Bridge Authority and others would have to agree to abide by the decision of the commission, which would have to be unanimous In addition, all parties would agree at the outset not to file any lawsuits during the commission's 120-day debate period and thereafter, provided the commission reached a unanimous decision.

No part of this proposal is set in stone. I look forward to discussing this idea with you. We need the participation of everyone involved in this process----Canadians and Americans, citizens of Buffalo and Fort Erie, members of the Peace Bridge authority, and business and environmental groups. Buffalo and Fort Erie need a new bridge; let's work together to build one.

Whether you prefer a signature span as I do, or the twin span, I am sure you agree, no action would be the worst decision of all.


The John Maloney--John LaFalce Plan
(A joint undated statement titled "A Proposal", issued two days after Schumer's plan was made public.)

With a view to resolving the impasse that has developed respecting competing proposals of the bridge link between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, we suggest that the Peace Bridge Authority agree to delay start of construction of the companion span to allow a 90-day period for an independent study to immediately begin detailed examination of the current Freschi-Lin plan for a single cable-stay bridge (including the demolition of the existing Peace Bridge) in order to determine whether the proposed single cable-stay bridge can be built equal in quality to the companion span, equal in both vehicular and pedestrian capacity to the companion span in combination with the existing Bridge within the same or similar time and cost (including the cost for demolition of the Peace Bridge) and with a likelihood of meeting all required environmental concerns and obtaining all necessary permits for both the construction of the Freschi-Lin bridge and demolition of the Peace Bridge.

We further suggest that if the report resulting from that study satisfied the listed conditions, the Authority seriously reconsider its plans, and in good faith review in detail and further develop the single cable-stay bridge plan, and put the existing companion span construction 'on hold' pending the results of such a detailed review. We understand that during the period of the 90-day study, and any detailed review which follows, the Authority might well wish to protect its legal interests by either commencing required actions, or, preferably, entering into a statute of limitations tolling agreement. However, we would expect that the Authority would not prosecute any legal claims it believes it has during the time frame we have proposed In exchange for that commitment of the Authority, when the 90-day study period beings, the City of Buffalo and all other Governmental Agencies should place in escrow all required easements and consents, and delay or suspend any legal action seeking to prevent construction of the companion span, all of which would be released to the Peace Bridge Authority in the event the single cable-stay bridge cannot meet any of the specified conditions.

We also understand that other Governmental Agencies might wish to commence legal action to protect their interests, or, preferably, enter into a statute of limitations tolling agreement. However we would also propose that no government entity prosecute a claim against the Peace Bridge Authority during this study period.

We also suggest that the initial 90-day study period work we describe be overseen jointly by Transport Canada and NYSDOT; that two (2) independent and reputable and experienced bridge engineering firms with no previous or potential future affiliation with either the companion span or the single cable-stay bridge be retained to undertake this study-one from Canada and one from the USA; that any architects and/or experts in the necessary environmental and permitting processes should have similar credentials; and that the study group consult with public officials, supporters and authors of the single-cable-stay span proposal and with the Authority.

The technical criteria and the scope of the study products should be established at the outset of the study.

It is our hope that the foregoing process, or something similar, can produce an objective evaluation of designs while maintaining this border's long tradition of mutual respect for beliefs and cooperative work toward solutions.


Plan A, Plan B
Both proposals ask everyone to hold off suing while the process goes on, and both are versions of single combat: those agents take on the battle and we all agree to abide by the results. Both proposals assume good will on both sides and that the Public Bridge Authority cares about what anybody thinks. Neither proposal gives any consideration to the plaza design and construction, a critical factor in all of this. That's where the similarities end.

---Maloney-LaFalce would have the study done by two bridge engineering firms picked by Transport Canada and New York State Department of Transportation. The Canadian Minister of Transport just reappointed three adamant twin span supporters to the PBA. The head of NYSDOT recently removed from the PBA one of his senior aides, a person familiar with transportation issues in the state, and replaced him with steel-factory-owner Brian Lipke. Lipke is also a twin span supporter. I'd have a difficult time assuming the two engineering firms were being picked for their ability to remain neutral.

---There would be no question where the members of Schumer's commission stood because he wants people with strong positions to be asking the questions. The people getting the data and preparing the report and voting would be people who care, who are frank and up front about their positions. No sneaking around, no hidden agendas. (Democracy isn't having people with no opinions on anything making the decision; it's having all the vital opinions heard and represented. I like that.)

---Schumer says he's willing to discuss the whole thing, that what he's putting forward is a proposal and nothing more. Maloney-LaFalce invites no comment, suggests no possibility of change, it's just out there: do this.

---Maloney-LaFalce has the city putting all its powers in a box that the PBA gets to open should those two engineering firms find the signature span idea faulty in any way. Those firms will come to a decision and that's it. Schumer's plan requires two strong advocates to change position, to be convinced by the data. If no change occurs, we're back to where we are today with nothing lost; if one side is so convinced by the data that it crosses to the other side, we've got a bridge going up over the river.

---Maloney-LaFalce gives less time to the study--90 days versus Schumer's 120 days-but that's not surprising given that theirs is just an engineering study while Schumer's suggests including the human factors as well.

---Maloney-LaFalce includes a study of the cost of demolishing the old bridge. Schumer doesn't mention that, but his proposal is so open-ended it easily could be. (The PBA did its own study of tearing down the old bridge in 1967. If you correct for inflation and their curious decision to exclude income from recovered steel, which is considerable, their projected cost comes to about $10 million in current dollars, only $1 million above the estimates provided by the consultants quoted by Bruno Freschi and T.Y. Lin.)

---Schumer's plan is reasonable, it is based on consensus, on letting the daylight in. It is also dangerous for the same reasons: it threatens to put all the facts in the hands of a citizen's group, it threatens to involve the community, something the PBA has stoutly resisted all along. That four-person committee would be like a grand jury, able to call anyone who might provide useful information. Maloney-LaFalce would turn it all over to two consultants. It would be like submitting to binding arbitration.

---Schumer's plan is written in ordinary English; you can understand everything he's saying. Maloney-LaFalce is very legalistic, very technical. I bet it was written by an attorney rather than by either legislator.

Changing Hearts
I have no idea why John Maloney decided to seem conciliatory at this time. He has consistently opposed the signature plan and a day after his statement with LaFalce came out he again said that he thought the twin span was the only way to go. Perhaps it was Stephen Handelman's excellent article on the Peace Bridge battle that appeared in the Canadian TIME. Canada came out looking sluggish and obstructionist in that piece.

But I can think of three reasons why John LaFalce's name is on that document, why he might appear to have had a change of heart.

First, it must have been lonely to be the only politician of stature on this side of the Niagara River still fighting the signature bridge.

For a while, it seemed possible to dismiss the signature span and its supporters. In a handwritten note to US Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater in mid-February, LaFalce referred to the questions raised by senators Moynihan and Schumer as “spurious allegations.” A delegation from the New Millennium Group that met with him a few weeks ago to enlist his support got nowhere. A member of the group wrote me that LaFalce “basically said that he had been around the issue for a long time and claimed that the process had recently become politicized. He danced around the issue (full of sound and fury, signifying nothing) but ended up defending the PBA's efforts and their plan. He also encouraged us to drop the issue and find another of greater importance.”

But the battle lines have shifted and even Governor George Pataki has come out for the signature bridge. It’s no longer a few politicians and a group of citizens futilely trying to get the PBA to pay attention. Now it’s Americans versus Canadians, with the PBA sitting silently in the middle. If, as many people think, LaFalce is hoping to be named ambassador to Canada, he’s building trouble for himself by being on the Canadian rather than the American side of an issue about which so many people care so much.

I think that's what he meant when he told the NMG delegation that the "process had recently become politicized." It was always political, but now it's getting political in a way that might cause him trouble.

Second, Hillary, still poised about running for Pat Moynihan's senate seat, came to Buffalo.

The first thing she did last Friday morning was keynote a $1000 a ticket fund-raiser for John LaFalce at the Delaware Park casino. She praised him for being someone great at bringing people together. That would have rung pretty hollow had there been pickets across the street with signs naming LaFalce the only Democrat trying to block the popular will. Hillary is a great supporter of inspiring public symbols and community involvement and here's John LaFalce the only Democrat opposing both. I don't know if one of Hillary's campaign people called LaFalce and said, "Do you know how much damage you're going to do us up there? Everybody knows you and the First Lady are buddies, you brag about it all the time, you're always being photographed with her. You're going to cost us votes in November. We've got Rudy Guiliani breathing down our necks. Get your house in order." It probably wasn't that specific. LaFalce and Hillary are both sophisticated people. It probably took no more than a question: "So, John, what's with this Peace Bridge we keep hearing about?"

Third, the Maloney-LaFalce proposal isn't so much a solution to the bridge stalemate as it is a way of killing Chuck Schumer's proposal.

I don't know if the people who are heavily invested in the twin span project asked LaFalce to do something to neutralize what Schumer started, but that would be the effect if his plan were accepted. Maloney-LaFalce looks enormously simpler, neater. Instead of all these hearings and people trooping in and out speaking their minds, all these varied consultants, it's just two organizations hired by two government agencies that have already told us where they are on this issue, working on their own, two final reports.

A Digression: What Happened at Troy
"LaFalce didn't deliver a peace plan," an attorney very much involved in all of this said. "He delivered the Trojan Horse."

That metaphor is thrown around so much I thought it might be useful to remind you what happened at Troy, how that battled ended. Homer's Iliad ends before the war does. You have to go to the second book of Virgil's Aeneid for this story. The wandering Aeneas is in Carthage and he tells the story to the city's queen, Dido:

One morning in the tenth year of the war that started after Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam, stole the wife of Menelaus, the Trojans awoke to find the entire Greek army gone. The ships, the tents, the troops: gone. Not far from the city gates they saw a huge horse made of wood. While they debated what to do, a Greek named Sinon appeared. He said he'd run away from his former friends because they were going to sacrifice him to ensure fair winds on their current trip to get new supplies and troops. The Trojans asked Sinon about the wooden horse. It was a gift to the gods, he said, and if it were ever brought inside the city of Troy the Greeks were doomed. Even though some of their wise men argued against it, the Trojans immediately set about doing what the Greek forces led by Agamemnon had been unable to do in a decade: they destroyed part of their wall and dragged the horse inside. There had been a prophecy that the Greeks would never triumph so long as Troy's walls remained intact, but what need to worry about that now that the Greeks were gone?

The Greeks weren't gone. They were hiding on the other side of an island not far from shore. And the horse wasn't empty. Late that night Sinon opened its belly and a group of Greek soldiers led by Ulysses (the Greek Odysseus) silently climbed out, opened the city gates from the inside, and admitted the Greek army. They killed or enslaved nearly everyone in the city. Only a few escaped.

The Trojan War happened about 1200 B.C., the Iliad was composed in late 8th or early 7th century B.C. Virgil's poem was unfinished at his death in 19 B.C. The end of the Trojan Horse story comes thirteen hundred years later, in cantos XXVI and XXX of Dante's Inferno.

Dante puts Ulysses in the eighth pit, or bolgia, of the eighth circle of Lower Hell. This is the bolgia of the deceivers. It is located between the thieves in bolgia seven and the sowers of discord in bolgia nine. Ulysses is on fire, and he will burn forever. That's because he thought up the idea of the Trojan Horse. Sinon is even lower, in bolgia ten, the place of the falsifiers, and he suffers more: he burns from a fire within so hot his body smokes, he cannot move, and he stinks.

For Dante Alighieri, inventing a deceptive plan is bad, but far worse is convincing people who think you're a friend into accepting it.

Let's Make a Date
So what happens now?

First, we wait to see if and the Public Bridge Authority responds to either of the proposals. The Buffalo News reported that some members of the PBA were looking favorably on the Maloney-LaFalce plan, which is hardly surprising. I can't imagine Maloney and LaFalce issuing that letter if they hadn't first run it by their friends on the PBA. And I'm sure that the Schumer plan would utterly terrify them.

We still need to know more than we have been allowed to know. As we reported last week, LaFalce's office has refused even to discuss setting up an interview to discuss these matters. Nothing has changed: we've still gotten no response to our request. We don't like doing all this speculating about the motives of a congressman who has served this area well for many years, but his inaccessibility leaves us no choice.

If John LaFalce wants to be Canadian ambassador when he's tired of being a member of Congress, he should be Canadian ambassador. He has many friends up there and he knows many of the border issues well. I'm sure he'll make a fine ambassador. If and when he's ambassador he'll have conversations with his Canadian counterparts and he'll report to and take instructions from the American Secretary of State. In the interim, he's still working for us and he really ought to talk to us about an issue we think is so important. Even if it's just to tell us why he thinks it's not so important--he should talk to us.

Maybe our messages haven't gotten through the stone wall of the staff surrounding him, so we'll reissue the invitation here:

John: How about sitting down for a conversation about the Peace Bridge issue and your position on it?
We'll sweeten it: Let's have the conversation and Artvoice will print a transcript of the whole tape with no cuts, no editing. All the questions, comments, arguments, responses, requests for more coffee, everything. You'll get to have your say and we'll get to ask our questions and our readers will get to read what you want them to know about what you're thinking. Your office has my phone number--I left it every time I called.
 

Correction
Last week I wrote that Tom Toles' Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1990 was the only Pulitzer the Buffalo News ever won. I was wrong. The Buffalo Evening News (the paper's name before it drove the Courier-Express out of business in 1982) won two of them: Bruce M. Shanks for editorial cartooning in 1958, and Edgar May for local reporting in 1961. My apologies to Messrs. Shanks and May and the Buffalo Evening News.
 

copyright 1999 Bruce Jackson

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