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Last week, Niagara District Council member David Rivera was interviewed by WBEN radio, after attending the hastily planned press conference by Governor Cuomo announcing the latest plans for the Peace Bridge Expansion project.

How do I even begin to explain why our Councilman has capitulated to the arm twisting of Governor Cuomo and fallen on the sword of the Public Bridge Authority. He’s agreed to give away our streets (Busti Avenue at Vermont, Rhode Island & Massachusetts) without even asking what the legal implications are in exchange for $2 million dollars – a bargain basement price for prime historic waterfront access to a world class Olmsted park.

Where’s the public input on a decision that will forever change the footprint of this pre-civil war community and public land people will never have access to again? Once the streets and land are acquired by the PBA, they will be surrounded by 20 foot ‘perimeter walls’, barbed wire, access roads and ramps owned and operated by a Bi-National bridge authority never again to be part of a residential landscape.

Rivera said with conviction that he believed there would be enough votes from his colleagues on the Council to seal the Busti Avenue street deal. Has he spent as much time educating others about the poisonous air produced by 4,000 diesel trucks a day passing through the neighborhood and the health costs associated with toxic diesel related illnesses? Do they know that the PBA plans to stage truck traffic even deeper into the neighborhood by building a Duty Free store right in the heart of Prospect Hill? Has he mentioned that all vehicles (thousands entering the US plaza every day), will be forced fed through the neighborhood onto an elevated road and eventually onto a series of flyover ramps leading to the Peace Bridge? Shouldn’t Rivera be concerned about how this will impact air quality for the next 100 years before he talks others into supporting the Busti Avenue right-away vote?

For years, Rivera has done next to nothing to address the blighted condition of the historic Episcopal Church Home and Hutchinson Chapel. Never once has he or his staff showed up in Housing Court to address the importance of preserving this 100 year old community landmark. Instead, he has relied on the passion of community residents to protest, patrol, and indict the actions of the owners who are waiting to cash out on the backs of the tax payer – a $15 million dollar bailout that goes directly into the pockets of corporate fat cats. Where is his outrage over corporate greed at the expense of tax payers?

Then there’s the Rivera mantra about his unproven theory on how to mitigate air quality; DEC air monitors. A plan that is too little, too late because it has already been done by independent experts and it’s still toxic. Epidemiologist and Pulmonologist, Jamson Lwebuga Mukasa and his esteem colleagues from Harvard and Kalieda have been monitoring air toxins around the Peace Bridge for over a decade. If that data had been used by Rivera it would be the Peace Bridge Plaza that would be bulldozed over and buried not Busti Avenue. Jack Foran, Artvoice has written extensively on this and so has John Duke.

There is so much wrong with Rivera’s comments but this one knocked me over. Rivera brought up the reason why commercial truck traffic cannot be diverted to the Lewiston Queen bridge –

Because New York State said “no” – really?

The PBA owns the bridge. It is a bi-national entity. Half the bridge is controlled by Canada. New York State has no legal jurisdiction over diverting truck traffic from the Peace Bridge to the LQ bridge. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

In a 2000 study, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission demonstrated how commercial traffic from the Peace Bridge could be diverted to the LQ bridge for 20 + years. And that was before more than $500 million dollars in capacity expansion improvements were completed to the LQ plaza in 2010. If it wasn’t possible, it wouldn’t have been proposed 12 years ago!

If diverting truck traffic from the Peace Bridge wasn’t a viable alternative, we would have heard it from the PBA long ago. Instead, it’s the politicians who say it can’t be done – hardly reason enough. At a series of recent meetings with the Mayor, Rivera and Governor Cuomo’s senior staff several of us were warned by Mayor Brown that we were not allowed to discuss ‘moving the trucks. No explanation. Just a gag order from the Governor. If it isn’t possible, then why not tell us the reason? What are they afraid of?

Rivera could be bold and write to the GSA, Customs and Border Protection and tell them to stop working at the Peace Bridge Plaza until the government starts obeying their own laws. It’s been done before. In 2003 Customs withheld services from the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit after a legal dispute with the private owner. CBP refused to staff several new inspection booths until a compromise was reached. As a federal agency, the GSA is obligated to comply with NEPA even if the PBA refuses. The law is the law. Rivera would have legal standing if he chose to pursue it – but he didn’t.

As Councilman of the District that will suffer the greatest environmental and health impact, Rivera has never demanded an environmental review study which is required by federal, state and City regulations. Why? Because it would be the final nail in the coffin of any expansion. So all the other excuses he uses as to why he signed onto Cuomo’s mandate to fast track the project which is primarily all about the Duty Free store were motivated by politics not the facts, and certainly not because he is putting the health and welfare of residents first.

Rivera has numerous options to stop the project but why won’t he?

• Demand to see the expansion and Duty Free plans. Why is thin air worth $17 million dollars? No Plan No agreement!

• Demand an environmental review. No EIS No agreement!

• Demand that environmental studies conducted by medical researchers Mukasa-Spengler be reviewed, discussed and weighted before any more decisions are made. The studies are peer reviewed by the prestigious HEI and recognized by the national environmental, medical and scientific community.

• Demand that the World Health Organization’s (W.H.O.) classification of diesel fumes as a carcinogen that causes lung cancer be enforced. No enforcement No Agreement!

• Demand that Gov. Cuomo follow the orders of his boss at the White House, President Barack Obama, who just last month pledged to close the racial and ethnic gap on childhood asthma. The west side is a text book model for the President’s mandate.

• Demand that NEPA, SEQRA, and CERA are enforced. No enforcement No Agreement!

• Demand that federal and state transportation law (4f) which adversely impacts historic resources be enforced. No enforcement No Agreement!

• Demand that City land mark properties be protected without another blade of grass being touched since the criteria for city land marking is dictated by the United States Department of Interior. No enforcement No Agreement!

• Demand open talks with Niagara Falls Bridge Commission regarding the shift in commercial traffic. Is a residential area the right place to stage freight processing? No talks No Agreement!

• Aggressively pursue the steps outlined by the Partnership for Public Good and the Common Council to merge the authorities into a single revenue sharing entity. Being an ‘urban doormat’ for trucks passing through the city heading to other locations isn’t an economic benefit for Buffalo. Shoppers and sports fans come by car.

• Educate the Public – Host informational sessions in several different languages so that all west side residents can understand the impact of what will happen to their environment, health and quality of life. Every resident has the right to know. No Public Input No Agreement!

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act define child abuse at the very minimum as an “act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child.”

In my opinion that makes every elected official who signs onto this slippery deal complicit in harming our children.

Dr. Mukasa compares the Peace Bridge Expansion project to a human experiment because “The Peace Bridge plaza expansion on Buffalo’s west side involves open ended exposure of pregnant women, children and adults to inhaled truck diesel particulates when the full health impacts of such exposure are unknown at the present time.” Why would Rivera choose to ignore this warning?

Public service is a privilege not an entitlement and certainly not an opportunity to feather one’s own nest. Whether it’s Rivera, the Mayor or the Governor, we shouldn’t let them get away with what they are planning to do on the West Side. Residents have suffered long enough. Elected officials not only have to be held accountable for words and deeds, but held to a higher standard period!

They should be asking the PBA if what they are doing now or in the future is harmful to residents before they do it. Otherwise, we are exposing generations of children to a senseless future of potential health problems. What kind of society are we if we allow the health of innocent children to become booty for greedy corporations and political agendas?

Kathy Mecca, President
Columbus Park Association
Buffalo, NY

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