WASHINGTON – The Canadian government is objecting strenuously to pending New York legislation that aims to dissolve the Peace Bridge Authority, saying the measure threatens to stall $50 million in improvements to the bridge’s American plaza the authority agreed to last year.
“At this time, there is a climate of doubt that puts progress on planned capital projects at risk, due to the tabling of bills in the New York Assembly and Senate, both of which aim to amend the incorporating legislation of the PBA,” Scott Streiner, assistant deputy minister of Transport Canada, said in a May 31 letter to Howard B. Glaser, a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“These deliberations on governance only serve as a distraction, and compromise the ability to move ahead on the approved capital projects,” Streiner said in the letter, which The Buffalo News obtained from a source who asked not to be identified. “This is unfortunate.”
Streiner noted the Peace Bridge Authority’s board unanimously approved a capital plan for those $50 million in projects last October. Those American-side projects include widening the approach to the bridge inspection booths, a new ramp to move traffic off the plaza more efficiently and a new customs house.
“Canadian directors have strongly supported projects on both sides of the border, and have done so repeatedly,” Streiner wrote.
That’s exactly the opposite of what Glaser, director of state operations and senior policy advisor to Cuomo, said in an April 25 letter to Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel.
“Finally, after years of foot-dragging, progress is occurring on the American side of the border,” Glaser wrote. “Unfortunately, that progress is in jeopardy due to a lack of cooperation from Canadian members of the PBA board.”
The exchange of letters between Streiner and Glaser is just the latest chapter in the binational battle over the future of the span that links Buffalo with Fort Erie, Ont.
While the Peace Bridge Authority’s Canadian members have been outspoken in defending their actions, Streiner’s letter is the clearest statement yet of the Canadian government’s concern over the pending legislation in Albany, which passed through Senate and Assembly committees last week with what lawmakers called the quiet support of the governor.
In the letter, Streiner mentioned what could be a huge roadblock to that legislation.
“Canada’s view is that significant amendments to the governance of the PBA cannot be made without the consent of both federal governments,” he wrote.
And he indicated Canada will not sign off on the idea behind the legislation, which is to let New York State rather than a binational authority control operations on the bridge’s American plaza.
“The decades of successful functioning of the PBA under the existing governance structure are proof that it works,” he wrote. “Canada is committed to the PBA and the existing governance structure, and understands that your administration also wants to make the current structure work.”
Glaser, however, expressed an entirely different view in his letter to Transport Canada, saying that U.S. members of the Peace Bridge Authority board had lost confidence in the authority’s general manager, Ron Rienas, a Canadian.
“With this matter unresolved, there is serious doubt about the ability of the Peace Brdige Authority to function,” Glaser wrote.