And Mr. Cuomo wanted the bridge authority to pay $4-million plus back taxes for some derelict church property that was valued at less than $2-million – a plan that was rejected by the Canadians on the authority’s board.
Even if the land had been purchased, the plaza could not have been expanded without embarking on a whole new environmental assessment, Mr. Annunziata said. And that was something he was not prepared to do given that it would lead to further delays in the re-decking process.
The spat has created more than a little tension on the board of the bridge authority. “Under these circumstances, it has not been the most pleasant,” said Mr. Annunziata with significant understatement.
Three Buffalo lawmakers in New York’s legislature have loudly threatened to scrap the binational agency, although the legality of that strike seems questionable.
More importantly, from the point of view of the Canadian members of the board, the proposed U.S. legislation would make it impossible to remarket the bridge authority’s bonds in 2014. That would mean there would be no money to upgrade the American plaza or to re-deck the bridge.
Mr. Cuomo has not publicly supported the threat to scrap the agency. Instead, he has dispatched New York’s Lieutenant-Governor Robert Duffy for talks with the Canadians. “We are committed to making the current structure work and are confident that our counterparts in Canada feel the same way,” Mr. Duffy said.
For his part, Mr. Annunziata said the solution is for the Governor to replace the Americans on the board with people who are better able to co-operate with the Canadians.
“I don’t think that the facts that are being shared with the Governor are accurate and if they were I think he would have a different stance.” he said. “But we can only rely on the people who are giving him his information. And that is the American board members. And I am on the record very clearly as saying that needs to change.”
Mr. Annunziata said there is no reason for the intense international war of words. “What’s odd has been the reaction from everybody else within the State of New York with the introduction of legislation,” he said, “and how they’ve rallied to make this political issue and make it a Canada-U.S. issue when it’s not a Canada-U.S. issue.”
Meanwhile Mr. Cuomo tabbed former Buffalo mayor Tony Masiello, a close political ally, to fill the last vacant U.S. seat on the binational agency. For his part, Mr. Masiello has sounded a conciliatory tone. “It’s not going to be easy. I think there’s some challenges … we have to work on what’s right for both sides of the border.”
It’s that pesky border – and the fact that another country is on the other side of the Niagara River – that makes life more difficult for Mr. Cuomo.
“I came in a year ago and said I’m going to rebuild the bridge now,” the Governor boasted last week, referring to the $5-billion project to replace the huge Tappan Zee Bridge that spans the Hudson River. “That could all have been happening here,” he said in Buffalo. “What can you learn from the Tappan Zee? You gotta get it done.”
Except the New York Governor controls both sides of the Hudson at Tappan Zee.
Peace Bridge Facts
Officially dedicated in August, 1927, the Peace Bridge crosses the Niagara River, joining Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ont. The bridge is 1,091 metres long and has three lanes.
Peace Bridge, as its name suggests, has long been held up as a symbol of the close friendship between the United States and Canada.
It is the second-busiest Canada-U.S. border crossing, with more than 4.77 million cars in 2011. It is the third-busiest border crossing in truck traffic, with more than 1.25 million commercial vehicles in 2011.
The plan to widen the bridge’s approach is expected to cost more than $10-million (U.S.) and involves construction of 215,000 square feet of extra space.
In addition to expanding the plaza on the U.S. side of the crossing, the Peace Bridge Authority is trying to agree on a $92-million proposal to refurbish the bridge.
The authority is also working on a plan to start up a $25-million customs pre-clearance pilot project for U.S.-bound trucks on the Canadian side, a component of the Beyond the Border initiatives.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story referred to "Queen" instead of "Crown" in the 9th paragraph. Crown is more accurate. King George III was on the throne in 1812 although a regent was running the monarchy.