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Weekly Reader – October 17th, 2014

War and Peace Bridge

Reality Check

On the face of it, the news sounds bleak: the restraining order against state construction/demolition at the Peace Bridge is lifted; but the fallout is most interesting.

Besides the ongoing Bridge Authority measures to improve conditions on the plaza, a new, rather strange, plan employs ‘magic’ concrete to reduce pollution, and Customs and Border Protection will soon use radiation to speed customs processing.

Despite the lack of official restraint, no construction work has resumed–apparently in anticipation of the judge’s final ruling on the complaint–while the cost of the project nearly tripled overnight.

And in the spirit of binational brotherhood, the U. S. and Canadian factions of the Public Bridge Authority Board agreed to approve increasing its budget to pay for the cost of suing itself.

As Ripley would say: “Believe it or not”

Rocket Docket

Opponents of work on Peace Bridge dealt a blow as judge lifts order barring demolition
Judge lifts order barring demolition

This Buffalo News article reviews the results of oral arguments in the complaint brought by Peace Bridge neighborhood residents against the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) and Empire State Development (ESD) and the city of Buffalo relative to their involvement in Peace Bridge plaza expansion.

Although State Supreme Court Justice John F. O’Donnell lifted the restraining order against work here, his decision stopped well short of dismissing the suit.  While all parties await the judge’s Memorandum of Decision on the complaint, construction appears to have stopped.

According to the article:
…Arthur J. Giacalone, a lawyer for the residents, warned state officials to proceed “at their own risk” if they choose to move ahead with the changes.The warning was part of a letter Giacalone sent to state officials overseeing the project.

It appears the warning was taken to heart.

The attorney further stated:
“The failure to comply with the letter and spirit of the state’s environmental review law,”…has had and will continue to have a severe and detrimental impact on the health, well-being and quality of life of the petitioners and other residents of the densely populated Lower West Side neighborhood of Buffalo that adjoins the U.S. entrance to the Peace Bridge.”

Justice O’Donnell promised a decision “soon”.

Meanwhile back at the bridge…

Bridge Authority’s plans to reduce air pollution include fume-absorbing concrete
Chemical in concrete will help absorb fumes

Perhaps in response to the filing of the lawsuit, the Public Bridge Authority announced one of its most amusing plans yet to reduce pollution.

According to this Buffalo Newsstory:

Shrubs, trees and fume-absorbing concrete are part of the Peace Bridge Authority’s new plans to reduce air pollution that has infuriated West Side neighbors for decades.

While these “new plans” were delivered in a full-throated declaration by authority Chairman (and former State Assembly Representative for the neighborhood), Sam Hoyt and others, they raised more eyebrows than applause from residents subject to generations of suffering from the toxic assault of Peace Bridge air.

But that’s not all.  A short time later this Buffalo News article appeared (Moves under way to prevent more bridge backups) touting installation of radiation detection equipment and other measures “expected to ease traffic tie-ups”, which is really nothing new, just a repackaging of current practice with a new bow.

We wonder what’s next: fume absorbing jugglers and clowns?

Legal Maneuvers

Budget debate highlights friction at Peace Bridge Authority

This Buffalo News article illustrates how unanimous agreement can also mean deep division, as the two waring factions of the Bridge Authority board voted to increase their legal budget from $196,000 to $360,000 in order to cover the cost of, essentially, suing itself.  The Authority General Manager has filed a complaint against the Authority’s former legal counsel, claiming counsel abandoned representing the Canadian members of the board in favor of representing only the U. S. members.  If the two sides fail to reach an amicable settlement soon, they’ll see each other in court before they meet again in the board room.

The Cheering Section

Officials are moving on many fronts to ease frustrating backups at bridges
In  this editorial and in typical fashion–with blinders firmly in place, that is– the Buffalo News again provides shrill support for any and all illusions of ‘progress’ at the Peace Bridge.And in this letter to the editor, (Peace Bridge Gateway is eagerly anticipated), not only are the threatened neighborhood’s residents denigrated for their opposition to expansion, the State DOT’s plan is praised for the ‘good’ it will bring.  More on this below.

What Price Glory?

State project on Peace Bridge likely to triple in costs

We learn in this Buffalo News story of an ancillary benefit of the complaint filed by Peace Bridge residents.

And it is that:
Court documents show the state signed a $56.2 million construction contract for its Gateway Connections project in September, 18 months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said in a news release that the entire project would cost “approximately $22 million.”Three sources with an intimate knowledge of the project said total costs are likely to exceed $66 million once a separate engineering contract and an environmental review are included.

Court documents also show the project is now set to be completed in May 2017, rather than the original target date of the end of next year.

What caused the bottom line to grow so fantastically?  For starters, the difficulty of working in a limited space, with a densely populated urban neighborhood on one side and the river on the other, while forced to  continuously maintain the flow of traffic there.

Or, as quoted in the piece:
“It’s a bad place to work.”

On top of that, you can add what sources called onerous requirements that the state insisted on including in the bidding process.

Which caused one source to claim:
“This is a job that could bankrupt a company.”

Perhaps that is why only one company chose to bid on the project.  And why the author of the letter referenced above supporting the project is a principal in that company.  All the more reason to write, no doubt.

Of course, the project has its champions, not the least of which is the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, a spokesperson for which offered this embarrassingly elitist remark:

“This brings back the Olmsted landscape, and that’s what we all want.” 

Although we doubt Olmsted’s original landscape included a constant cloud of diesel emissions.

Who wants to bet there are more problems in store for this project?

One thing is clear: the state has, if not misstated, at least grossly underestimated it from the start, when its own project manager characterized it in this forgotten Buffalo News article (State DOT proposes revamping access to Peace Bridge) as:

“…two ramps, two bridges and some pavement in between. It’s nothing very exciting.”

It’s much more ‘exciting’ now.

Hypocrisy and Ignorance Alert

Higgins, Gioia split on Outer Harbor

Read this Investigative Post report on another waterfront construction project wherein Representative Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan exhibit hypocrisy characteristic of virtually all elected officials, advocating citizens’ access to the waterfront while simultaneously encouraging destruction of the city’s oldest waterfront community–the Peace Bridge neighborhood–through their support of expansion there; and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation Chairman Robert Gioia expresses what is apparently the impression of the vast majority of the general public that “public opposition” killed Peace Bridge expansion, when, in fact, it was, most important, the inability of the plan to pass the required environmental review as well as lack of Federal budget money that stopped the expansion.

And that’s a fact.

End Quote

Buffalo Environmental Management Commission Memorandum

This memorandumfrom the Buffalo Environmental Management Commission, just issued to the Buffalo Common Council, contains the Commission’s review and recommendations relative to the State’s planned demolition of the former Episcopal Church Home in the Peace Bridge neighborhood, and concludes:

The state has taken inappropriate liberties…in this case, evidently to rush forward an action in support of developments around the Peace Bridge, and attempting to circumvent public input. Common Council should insist that appropriate public input and competent public analysis of the proposed environmental impacts take place.

That’s the news.