ALBANY – Legislation that backers say will dissolve the Peace Bridge Authority moved along in the state legislative process Tuesday, though one lawmaker warned the timing of the bill could slow negotiations with Canadian officials to resolve the increasingly testy dispute over construction improvements on the span.
The bill sailed through Senate and Assembly committees and lawmakers, with what they privately say is the quiet backing of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, expect it to be approved by the two houses before the 2013 session ends June 30. Canadian officials say the bill would effectively halt major construction work.
The ranking Republican on the Assembly corporations and authorities committee, Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, said she supported the concept of the bill, but said its timing is wrong given the crucial stage of negotiations between New York and Canadian officials to resolve the bridge dispute.
“I’m very concerned this is going to lead to lawsuits and create a mess,’’ Corwin said. “I look at this as throwing a rock through the window of Canada.’’
Canadian bridge officials say the legislation will stop all major construction work, valued at more than $100 million, including a new U.S. plaza and a redecking project.
But Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said his legislation gives the authority one year – until July 2014 – to “see if they can act as a responsible authority.’’
If no further bonds are issued by the authority before then and current disputes are not resolved, the agency would go out of business under New York law. He dismissed Canadian claims that dissolving the authority would still need approval by Congress in Washington and Parliament in Ottawa.
“They’ve been promising us a plaza and now they’re telling us to wait until 2019 for a plaza,’’ he said of plans to expand the Buffalo span’s footprint to ease truck congestion and traffic going through nearby residential streets. “To me, that’s grounds for termination.’’
But bridge authority chairman Anthony Annunziata, a Canadian, said the legislation’s intent to dissolve the agency “undermines’’ the authority’s ability to borrow. That then halts major construction projects, including work on the Buffalo side, he said.
Annunziata is scheduled to hold another negotiating session with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy on Thursday.
New York officials have said the Canadians are pushing a plan to redeck the span before doing work on the Buffalo plaza, which will effectively make an already congested entry point to the United States even worse during the redecking work.
But Annunziata said that characterization is flawed. “The reality is that was the plan. The plan is to do the U.S. plaza first so we can create the environment so we can begin the redecking. That’s the physical order of the projects. The problem is if you don’t give us the ability to borrow, then we have to pay off the [outstanding] bonds. If we pay off the bonds, we won’t have enough cash in reserves to redeck so there is no point in doing the U.S. plaza,’’ he said.
In a Buffalo News editorial board meeting Tuesday, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who appoints one of the five New York members serving on the bridge authority, sought the peacemaker role.
“I certainly favor peace,” he said. “It is in our interest to work out a deal so we can get inspections on the Canadian side of the border.”
Such a deal would ease traffic and pollution concerns on the U.S. side of the border, he said.
He predicted officials would eventually work out a solution.
News Staff Reporter Patrick Lakamp contributed to this report. email: email@example.com