Originally appeared in the Buffalo News on July 7th, 2012.

Air monitors will run for 12 months; Sweeps also will target trucks that idle too long

Neighbors of the Peace Bridge could soon learn if the air they’re breathing is dangerous. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with the Peace Bridge Authority, announced this week that it will install two air-monitoring devices near the bridge and also will take enforcement actions against truck drivers who violate idling regulations.

Air monitoring is expected to begin in August and will be funded by the authority and conducted by the DEC. The anti-idling sweeps are ongoing and are being conducted by DEC officers.

The state’s decision to grant these two environmental protections, which had been sought for months by neighbors of the Peace Bridge, follow Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s interest in improving the border crossing.

Critics of bridge expansion plans welcomed the DEC’s news, but they were quick to note that their opinions on an expansion have not changed.

Sam Hoyt, who is chairman of the bridge authority and a member of the Cuomo administration, said the governor has a “laser-like focus” on improving the efficiency of the Peace Bridge.

Part of the authority’s plans include demolition of eight houses on Busti Avenue. Those demolitions are being challenged in court by preservationists and neighbors.

Those plans “might have re-energized the opponents and prompted greater attention on the environment,” Hoyt said.

Expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza has long been a contentious issue in the surrounding West Side neighborhood, and the bridge authority’s latest plan to expand the plaza has prompted opposition among some members of the community.

The expansion would improve traffic flow on the bridge and decrease the amount of time trucks have to wait on the bridge before being inspected, the authority maintains.

“We believe there is a congestion problem here on this property,” Hoyt said. “Anything we can do to keep the vehicles moving forward is good for commerce. … It’s also good for the environment and surrounding neighbors.”

The state’s environmental announcement was cautiously welcomed by some of the authority’s most vocal critics.

Erin Heaney, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition, said she was encouraged by the DEC’s action and the department’s plan to post the test results online, but she hopes the state will provide some context to the results for the community.

“We don’t think that this means they can go ahead and expand the truck plaza,” Heaney said, adding later that there is no science to support the idea that an expanded plaza will reduce emissions.

Those concerned about air quality around the bridge cite higher rates of asthma in the densely populated West Side neighborhood. A rally in late May drew nearly 100 people to Front Park, steps from the bridge, in which neighbors called for Cuomo to install air monitors before the Peace Bridge plaza is expanded.

Council Member David A. Rivera appeared at a news conference held Friday by state legislators to herald the DEC’s plans only in support of the environmental measures, not because he was endorsing any of the Peace Bridwge’s plans, he said.

“Show us a plan,” he said. “You have to give us more than just talk at this point.”

The authority plans to make improvements on land it owns to reduce congestion, but it said that a more ambitious expansion, one that would move the duty-free store to the site of a vacant nursing home, requires acquisition of land the authority doesn’t yet control. Therefore, it said, any project design would be premature.  Air monitoring will be conducted for six months before renovations to the plaza and for six months afterward.

Calls for air monitoring at the bridge over the last six months have included letters from city and state lawmakers and the Clean Air Coalition.

The DEC said Friday that it would install an air monitor upwind of the bridge, in or near Front Park, and another downwind on the east side of Busti Avenue near the vacant Episcopal Church Home. The monitors will measure fine particulate matter and black carbon. A meteorological station will be installed at one of the sites. As part of the DEC’s action to catch truck drivers who idle for more than five minutes after they’ve gone through primary inspection, uniformed conservation officers will issue tickets.

Comment from Elizabeth Martina, Buffalo, NY:

Oh please! Why would the Dept. of Transportation, the lead agency on the expansion project, be in charge of monitoring air quality? There is already plenty of research done by Dr. Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa who measured ultra fine particulate matter in all four seasons with over 600 hours of data. We can bet the results of this new testing will look more favorable on the PBA! Get an unbiased outside measurement and not someone you can bribe with the results you want! Also-when you build those ramps up the Peace Bridge from the new Duty Free there will be even greater ultra fine particulate matter spewing deeper in to the community. Are you even measuring ultra fine particulate matter? How about the W.H.O which has diesel emissions to be a direct cause of cancer? You can’t just ignore these findings! Cuomo, Higgins, Grisanti, Ryan, Schumer and Brown all know about this research, yet only Brown has tried to speak up about it!

The PBA says there are NO plans on the table yet, but all of the government officials and a few select residents have seen the plans, demonstrating the PBA’s covert operations thus providing NO due process rights for the community residents!