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Peace Bridge War Leaves Basic Questions Unanswered

What to make of all this argy-bargy and nastiness about the running of the Peace Bridge? By the very people who run the bridge, and associates?

New York State Senator Mark Grisanti and Assemblyman Sean Ryan wanting the state legislature to annihilate the Public Bridge Authority.

Sam Hoyt, who was the PBA top honcho last year—but this year the top job switches to the Canadians for a term—wanting to fire bridge general manager Ron Rienas, for some vague and unspecified misfeasance.

And we thought they all liked each other. Or at least were in such serious cahoots that any petty differences—like family disagreements in a well-run household—would not be aired in public. Or at least worked so well and efficiently together, like the way they got those historic houses on Busti promptly demolished, starting early the next morning after the judge’s late-the-previous-day surprise decision allowing demolition. Before any further pesky protest or obstruction by the preservationists. Eight substantial structures vanished in about 12 hours. Rienas on the scene, while Hoyt churned out a gleeful press release about the fait accompli.

The accusations against Rienas unspecific except for woolly allegations about “foot dragging” on the plaza expansion project on the US side. Whereas, from Rienas’s perspective there would be numerous reasons why the plaza expansion project has lagged, such as the presence of the eight houses on Busti until just a few weeks ago; the unexplained delay on the sale of the Episcopal Church Home property that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last August was imminent, but then the state agency that was supposed to purchase it, ultimately to somehow transfer it to the PBA for expansion land, for some reason didn’t purchase it, and now the matter is in the hands of another state agency; the matter of acquisition of Busti Avenue itself, as to which Cuomo also announced last August he had an agreement in place with the City of Buffalo, but apparently nothing has yet happened on the matter.

So why all the distemperate back-and-forth? Such stuff can happen when the boss has an enormous ambition. The ambition to be president of the United States. And to the achievement of that overweening ambition—at least this time around, because this is Hilary Clinton’s turn—wants the feather in his cap of accomplishment at last at the Peace Bridge, where authorities and the community have bickered for decades about what should or shouldn’t be done. (And who cares if what finally does get accomplished is about as unwelcome to the community—it’s a relatively small community, he figures, versus the larger community at stake, the state, the nation—as anything that has been previously bandied. The point for Cuomo being accomplishment.) But he still hasn’t made it happen.

So the boss’s disappointment and unhappiness transfers down to his subordinates, and in particular, his main man in Buffalo, Sam Hoyt. Who then must shift the blame elsewhere. And prompted, no doubt, by the model and example of his boss, Hoyt thinks big. He thinks: Canada. The Canadians on the PBA. And for good measure, and ultimately to particularize, Ron Rienas, bridge manager and Canadian.

And has his subordinates, in a way, Ryan and Grisanti, propose for the New York State legislature to dissolve the PBA, on the theory that it has become “dysfunctional,” as well as “arrogant” and “unaccountable” and “lack[ing in] transparency.” (The last three items indubitable.) Bridge operation would be taken over, on this side anyway, by the NFTA.

Meanwhile, sale of the Episcopal Church Home to the state reportedly remains imminent, but also remains unaccomplished. For $3 million above the $1.7 million or so appraised value. A bit of Cuomo largesse to the Episcopal Church Home. Former city councilman and Peace Bridge area property owner Al Coppola calls it “corruption of the first order.”

Coppola asks, “Why should the people of the State of New York pay off debt accrued by the Episcopal Church Home?” He gets no answer.

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