ALBANY – Canada’s top official based in New York met at the State Capitol with senior Cuomo administration officials and legislators Tuesday to try to resolve the bitter dispute that has been raging for months at the Peace Bridge.
Consul General John F. Prato spent part of the day in Albany, a day before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was due to travel to Buffalo in what has been floated to be a sales pitch for his plan to permit taxpayer-funded campaigns in New York.
Despite the meeting, the State Legislature was continuing to move a bill to dissolve the Peace Bridge Authority, the binational panel that runs the span between Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo. The measure sailed through the Assembly Rules Committee, the last stop before it hits the full floor for a vote as early as this week.
The legislation has raised the concerns of Canadian officials, as well as a leading Buffalo-area business group and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. The fear is that the bill will halt various projects, including a plan negotiated by Washington and Ottawa to improve the flow of truck traffic coming into the United States on the congested span.
The Cuomo administration did not signal any improvement in relations as a result of the meetings. An administration official said Prato met with Cuomo advisers “making his case to slow down” the advancing legislation. “He was unsuccessful.”
Prato met briefly with Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, sponsor of legislation to end the 80-year life span of the binational authority. He has said that the panel has outlived its usefulness and that the bridge should be controlled by separate entities that manage each half of the bridge in Canada and the United States.
“I’m very happy to hear officials of the Canadian government are involved in this issue,” Ryan said after the meeting in reference to much of the talks that have been between the Cuomo administration and Canadian representatives of the Peace Bridge Authority.
“We appreciate Mr. Prato coming to Albany to hear everyone’s concerns. It’s clear we all share similar goals, including the pre-clearance of trucks,” Ryan said of a pilot program due to begin in six months or so to have cargo truck traffic pre-inspected on the Canadian side as a way to reduce congestion on the span coming into the smaller Buffalo plaza area.
Besides Cuomo officials and Ryan, Prato met with Robert F. Mujica Jr., top adviser to Senate Republican Conference Leader Dean G. Skelos, of Long Island.
The Cuomo administration and the Peace Bridge Authority’s Canadian officials have been fighting over how to proceed with improvements to the New York side, including enlarging the plaza and opening a new duty-free shop. Canadian officials have said New York has failed to fully share the details of the plans, while New York officials have accused Canadians of blocking needed infrastructure improvements to improve the flow of traffic and reduce pollution from trucks in Buffalo. “We’re trying to get Mr. Prato to understand Western New York’s concerns of the appearance and functionality of the New York plaza,” Ryan said. He said he was encouraged that Prato said the dispute will not affect broader issues, such as trade between New York and Canada.