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Seven Days: All The News That's Fit to Whatever

Not in our lifetime.

A bridge too far out of budget:

Some bad news for the proposed Peace Bridge expansion project: An Ottawa-based newsletter called the Bar-Code Border, which reports on trade and transportation between the United States and Canada, learned last week that the Department of Homeland Security will not be spending money on infrastructure projects on the border in the immediate future.

Here’s their report:

There is no likelihood of more U.S. dollars for border infrastructure to be coming in the near future. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed this to The Bar-Code Border.

There will be no spending anytime soon at the Peace Bridge, where all is otherwise ready to go for building a long-sought twin span to the 84-year old crossing. CBP’S Office of Field Operations says in an e-mail that CBP, the General Services Administration which allocates federal spending, and Peace Bridge executives, “spoke a number of times this past year about funding for an expansion of the bridge and plaza.”

“However,” if added, “given the size of the project and the expected paucity of Federal funds in out years, there are not any immediate plans to move forward with modifications to the bridge or structure.”

As for all other crossings, the U.S. prospects are equally bleak. The CBP said in another email: “These projects, led by GSA, require a significant investment by multiple federal agencies and the respective port authorities. At this time, funding for such projects is not secured for our current fiscal plan.”

The controversial Peace Bridge plaza expansion is a $300 million project that relies on federal funds. It is also linked by environmental impact study to the construction of a second bridge. The new bridge is to be funded through bond sales by the Public Bridge Authority, but it cannot be built separate from the plaza. Furthermore, funding for a new bridge would require the New York State Legislature to increase the PBA’s bonding capacity. Given the state’s financial situation—Governor Andrew Cuomo described New York as “functionally bankrupt” on Tuesday—it seems unlikely that any authorities will be granted permission to increase their debt load. Not even a neither-fish-nor-fowl entity like the PBA, which is a state authority created under a binational agreement between the US and Canadian governments.

The freeze on federal money for border infrastructure means that improvements to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge plaza are on hold, too.

Follow the frack fluid, part 3:

This coming Tuesday, February 8, Buffalo’s Common Council will vote on the Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance—a bill that would outlaw hydraulic fracturing for natural gas within city borders. It would also outlaw exploratory drilling within city borders, as well as the acceptance of waste produced by fracking natural gas wells.

That last element may be the most critical element of the legislation. Though there are numerous dormant gas wells within the city, it’s not considered a promising venue for natural gas exploitation. The real action is elsewhere. But, as reported here in the past two weeks, it appears that the frack fluid generated by the process may have been discharged into the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s wastewater treatment system.

According to Michael Bopp of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a company called Waste Technology Services has a contract with US Energy, a natural gas driller, to dispose of wastewater produced by US Energy’s wells. The wastewater is received in holding tanks or ponds at the drill sites, then diluted with uncontaminated water. The diluted frack fluid is then shipped to the Buffalo Sewer Authority, where it is discharged into the facility’s “pre-treatment” system. (The permits for the pre-treatment system are handled by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Bopp said, which is why DEC told AV in previous conversations that it had no record of the Buffalo Sewer Authority being authorized to accept frack fluid.) The “pre-treated” frack fluid is then disposed of through the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s main facility.

Bopp did not know what degree of dilution rendered frack fluid eligible for disposal through the Buffalo Sewer Authority.

Currently permitted methods of fracking in New York State creates a relatively small quantity of frack fluid compared to the horizontal, deep-well, high-volume fracking that the industry has proposed—tens of thousands of gallons as opposed to millions. If horizontal, deep-well, high-volume fracking is approved in New York State, all that wastewater—a mixture of water, sand, and a wide variety of toxic chemicals—will have to go somewhere.

And not just wastewater: The rock cuttings brought to the surface in the process of drilling wells often contain radioactive materials, which pose their own disposal and human health headaches. Those radioactive materials can leach into the frack fluid that returns to the surface and is supposed to be shipped away to treatment facilities.

Gaughan shoots for bigger and less popular game:

Attorney Kevin Gaughan, who for several years now has been marching his army of government downsizers throughout Erie County’s hinterlands, has now turned his eyes to Albany.

Gaughan proposes reducing the State Senate from 62 to 50 members, and the State Assembly from 150 to 125 members.

“To save New York, Albany is about to lay-off employees at hospitals, schools, parks, and social service agencies,” Gaughan said. “If we’re going to eliminate full-time state workers, we should eliminate part-time politicians as well.”

Gaughan hopes to achieve the reduction in state senators through a proposition on this fall’s ballot. He’s asking state senators to make known their position on his proposal, which he says could save the state $12 million per year.

Gaughan’s downsizing efforts in Erie County have encountered various types of resistance, some of it institutional recalcitrance and some derived from criticism that the changes he proposes are more symbolic than practical reforms of local government. It is unlikely that his assault on the New York State Senate, a marquee example of governmental dysfunction, will generate any such qualms.

Green code meetings:

The reworking of Buffalo’s zoning code has the potential to be one of the most fundamental and significant acts by city government in the past 50 years. (We haven’t had a new land use plan since 1977, and haven’t had a comprehensive zoning code revision since 1951.) A series of upcoming workshops will convene residents, employers, and employees from their respective neighborhoods across the city to chart a course for future development.

Public input is the most essential element in the zoning code revision process, because the proposed “green code” aims to reflect citizens’ visions of their own neighborhoods. Here’s the schedule for the nine neighborhood workshops:

Central (Downtown, Erie Basin, Outer Harbor)—Monday, February 28, 6:30-9pm, Hutch-Tech High School (230 S. Elmwood Avenue).

Northwest (Riverside, Black Rock, Grant/Amherst, Hertel/Military)—Tuesday, March 1, 6:30-9pm, Riverside High School (51 Ontario Street).

Northeast (Kensington/Bailey, University Heights, Fillmore/Leroy)—Tuesday, March 1, 6:30-9pm, Bennett High School (2885 Main Street).

Ellicott (Old First Ward, The Valley, Hydraulics/Larkin District, Willert Park, Near East Side)—Wednesday, March 2, 6:30-9pm, Montessori School (342 Clinton Street).

North (North Buffalo, Parkside, Central Park, Park Meadow)—Wednesday, March 2, 6:30-9pm, North Park Academy (780 Parkside Avenue).

West (Elmwood Village, Allentown, West Side)—Thursday, March 3, 6:30-9pm, Lafayette High School (370 Lafayette Avenue).

South (South Buffalo)—Thursday, March 3, 6:30-9pm, South Park High School (150 Southside Parkway).

Masten (Fruit Belt, Masten Park, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Schiller Park, Cold Springs/Midtown, MLK Park, Delavan/Grider, Hamlin Park)—Saturday, March 5, 9-11:30am, East High School (820 Northampton Street).

East (Broadway/Fillmore, Lovejoy, Kaisertown, Seneca/Babcock, Little Hollywood, Clinton/Bailey)—Saturday, March 5, 1-3:30pm, Col. Matt Urban Center (1081 Broadway Street).

—geoff kelly

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