ALBANY – It may be a short peace.
Tensions are said to be mounting again between Canadian officials and New York State over the Peace Bridge, months after the cross-border dispute was supposedly settled in a much-heralded public ceremony.
Some of the snags may bubble into the open Friday when the Peace Bridge Authority meets, but heightening what people on both sides of the border say are growing problems comes the day after Christmas – when the Assembly is set to send a bill to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to dissolve the current binational governance for the bridge that has existed since the 1930s.
While the Cuomo administration sought to tamp down any controversy, one state lawmaker suggested Wednesday that the legislation has been kept alive, in part, to pressure Canadian members of the bridge authority to embrace new construction efforts on the U.S. side.
Six months ago, when that legislation was passed, New York lawmakers publicly – and Cuomo administration officials privately – called the measure a necessary step to end what they perceived as Canadian intransigence over implementation of construction projects to alleviate traffic on Buffalo’s side of the bridge.
Wednesday, it was clear the wounds are still raw. Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat who co-authored the legislation, said the future of that bill, and whether he would advise Cuomo to sign or veto it, will depend on Friday’s Peace Bridge Authority meeting. He said construction projects are still pending that New York officials want approved.
Asked why his bill has not been sent to Cuomo for approval or veto, Ryan said, “I’d like to have as much leverage as possible to make sure the (Peace Bridge) board functions smoothly, and we can ensure that by making the threat of it active until Jan. 10.”
That is the date Cuomo would have to act if the Assembly – which controls the bill because it was passed in that chamber first – sent the measure to him Dec. 31. Assembly officials later in the day said the plan is to send that measure, and several other outstanding bills, to Cuomo on Dec. 26, making the deadline for him to act on Jan. 8.
The Cuomo administration suggested that the governor would not approve the legislation when it is sent to him, but did not specifically say so.
Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, noted that a memo of understanding reached in June between New York and Canadian officials noted that the Cuomo administration agreed the bill to abolish the bridge authority will not take legal effect “in consideration of the terms and conditions” contained in the agreement. “As we’ve previously said, New York is abiding by the Peace Bridge understanding and looks forward to working with our partners for the mutual benefit of Western New York and its Canadian counterpart. The legislation will be reviewed in light of the understanding,” Azzopardi said.
Ryan, though, portrayed a situation that is still fluid. He said the outcome of Friday’s Peace Bridge Authority meeting could determine the future of the authority – and presumably what appears to be a rather tenuous peace between the two sides of the border.
“If they prove they can function, then they’ll have the ability to stay in business. If they can’t, then it will be put out of business,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
The sharp words stand in contrast to late June, when Cuomo stood alongside Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, to announce an agreement that Cuomo says would cut the construction time of traffic-improvement projects on the U.S. side.
For months before that, a nasty rhetorical war raged between the Cuomo administration and Canadian bridge officials. The Cuomo administration and allies at the time accused Canadian board members of a slothlike approach to work on the U.S. side, while Canadian officials, perplexed at the heightened level of the battle that ended up involving diplomats and federal legislators in Washington and Ottawa, said they had a proven record of supporting efforts to relieve congestion and improve traffic flow into the United States.
The assumption in June was that the Assembly legislation, and its threat to eliminate the bridge authority, was no longer needed after Cuomo and Doer made up publicly. But the measure was never sent to Cuomo soon after his deal with Doer, a step that could have illustrated that the dispute was resolved. The Assembly could also simply not send the bill to Cuomo, a move that would cause the measure’s to expire Jan. 1.
But privately, officials with knowledge of the bridge situation say relations have been growing cold again between New York and Canadian board members. Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority Chairman Anthony Annunziata, an Ontario hotel executive, declined to provide detailed comment on the legislation or Ryan’s comments about it. “My understanding is that we dealt with all this,” he said, calling Ryan’s comments “pretty surprising given that we have an understanding. The board has demonstrated that we are working well.”