ALBANY – More than six months after he stood alongside the Canadian ambassador to announce the end of a bitter dispute over the Peace Bridge Authority, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Friday night vetoed a bill that New York lawmakers say helped resolve the border fight last year.
The legislation, which sought to abolish the binational panel that runs the span’s operations, was viewed by some New York officials as a hammer to help show Canadian officials last year that New York was serious about killing off the authority that has operated the bridge since the 1930s.
New York had accused Canada of slowing down work on the U.S. side of the bridge, a claim the Canadians dismissed.
The state cut a deal with Canada in late June that included a memorandum of understanding concerning the timetable and scope of construction projects at the span; in return, the Cuomo administration agreed that the legislation to abolish the authority “will not take legal effect,’’ according to the June memo.
Still, while the legislation was approved June 12 by the Senate and Assembly in Albany – a couple of weeks before Cuomo and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer announced their détente plan – the Governor’s Office did not ask the Legislature to send the bill to Cuomo until late December.
In his veto message, Cuomo said progress has been made on bridge construction efforts, in part, because of the legislation. While he said the bill was no longer needed, he said he would re-consider the same legislation if problems at the bridge authority again hampered New York efforts to make bridge improvements.
During that previous six-month period while the bill’s fate was still not finally resolved, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat and sponsor of the legislation, had said that letting the bill hang during the summer and fall helped prod the authority to agree to certain construction schedules contained in the June arrangement.
Canadian sources had said they did not know what prodding was needed since they had already approved a number of projects on the American side.
Thursday, Ryan wrote to Mylan Denerstein, Cuomo’s counsel, to say that the legislation helped serve as a “necessary catalyst’’ to get the deal in June with Canadian officials.
“Given the fact that the goals for progress at the Peace Bridge have already been achieved, I feel that the legislation does not need to become law, and I would respectfully request that the governor not sign the legislation into law,’’ Ryan wrote.
The rift between New York and Canada was ugly in public and behind the scenes, and eventually involved federal officials from Ottawa and Washington.
Canadian officials maintained throughout that the Ottawa-appointed board members on the bridge panel long supported improvements to the New York side of the span. In the end, individuals involved say little more than a traffic study came out of the dispute, while New York officials insist coming improvements to the plaza in Buffalo, which they say will ease congestion, were pushed along faster because of the dispute and its resolution.
The death of the legislation comes as federal and bridge officials announced that a pilot pre-inspection program, in which U.S. border patrol agents will be stationed on the Canadian side to clear commercial traffic coming into the United States, is set to begin this month.
“That project will be up and running in the third week in January, so this is great news heading into that,’’ Anthony Annunziata, the chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority, said Friday.