By Arthur J. Giacalone
The Peace Bridge Authority has spent more than 20 years pursuing two goals.
Its first objective is lawful and obvious. The international Bridge Authority seeks to relieve congestion and improve traffic flow at the Peace Bridge. But its second goal is neither legitimate nor transparent. The PBA has steadfastly sought ways to avoid examining the cumulative environmental impacts of proposed bridge and plaza enhancement projects on the adjacent community.
As Justice Eugene M. Fahey observed in 2000, the PBA and its allies have “strained mightily to avoid the common sense conclusion” that traffic flow over the Peace Bridge “is acutely dependent on traffic flow through the current or any proposed new plaza,” engaging in “strategems to avoid the required environmental review.”
During the 1990s, the PBA proposed construction of a second bridge, while considering a number of projects meant to improve the efficiency of the Canadian and U.S. plazas and their connecting roadways. Various parties, including the City of Buffalo and the Episcopal Church Home, went to court to compel the government agencies to comply with the state’s environmental review laws by considering the cumulative impact of the proposed bridge construction and the related plaza and connected roadways projects.
The PBA is still engaged in schemes to avoid the required environmental review. The latest example is the Empire State Development Corp.’s acquisition of the Episcopal Church Home property.
In May 2012, the PBA adopted a resolution describing “several potential projects designed to improve traffic handling and relieve congestion” in the area of the U.S. plaza. They included the expansion of the plaza to include the Episcopal Church Home property and adjoining public rights of way, a bridge approach widening project, modifications to plaza egress and an addition to the customs commercial building.
All of these projects were included in the “Peace Bridge understanding” announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the PBA this past June. And court papers filed in May by the Episcopal Church Home expressly state that Empire State Development intends to develop the property “as part of an expanded Peace Bridge Plaza.”
Nonetheless, Empire State Development purchased the church home property on June 28 without first examining the cumulative impacts of the various projects intended to improve traffic flow at the Peace Bridge.
The Episcopal Church Home went along with this ruse rather than insisting, as it had in 1999, that cumulative environmental impacts be considered. Apparently, the state’s willingness to pay $4.7 million trumped any concerns the not-for-profit organization once had for the health and well-being of the surrounding neighborhood.
Arthur J. Giacalone is an environmental and land use attorney.