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GSA is Second Federal Agency to Consider Moving Truck Traffic Off the Peace Bridge

With All Due Respect

EPA identified Lewiston-Queenston as alternative in 2007

The front-page cover story in the Sunday, January 26 edition of the Buffalo News, “The Secret Attempt To Ban Trucks At The Peace Bridge,” reveals just how swiftly state and federal officials moved to scuttle consideration of a plan to reduce the high rate of childhood asthma in a City of Buffalo neighborhood near the Peace Bridge. According to the News’s Washington Bureau Chief, Jerry Zremski, a small group of concerned officials at the US General Services Administration had proposed a “possible win/win solution” to address the pollution problem, barring commercial truck traffic from the international crossing between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario, and moving it 21 miles away to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.

Environmentalists and Peace Bridge expansion supporters reacted with anger when they read of the secretive nature of the August 2012 discussions. But it doesn’t surprise this observer that the GSA officials recognized the harm being done to the Lower West Side children by truck fumes, and sought alternatives to resolve the health calamity, chose to work in secrecy. They were not the first federal officials to identify the problem and view the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge as a possible solution.

In a letter dated November 29, 2007, a US Environmental Protection Agency official in the agency’s New York City office, John Filippelli, provided the EPA’s comments to the Federal Highway Administration following its review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Peace Bridge Expansion Project.

A major concern expressed in the 2007 EPA letter is the fact that, “for all intents and purposes,” the draft EIS only considered one option, the FHWA’s preferred alternative, a new companion bridge: “…[C]ertainly the draft EIS could have presented another alternative to meet the project’s purpose and need and objectives, whether from the original list of 59 alternatives listed in Appendix S, or a totally new alternative, such as routing all truck traffic to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge [sic].”

The EPA’s letter also included the following references to “a bridge to the north” and the failure to consider “air quality”:

“…[I]t is not clear within the draft EIS why the preferred alternative was chosen, rather than a replacement bridge or a bridge to the north…”

“…None of the screened alternatives considered air quality, water quality or sediment analyses.”

The federal agency entrusted with the protection of our environment also had a critical view of aspects of the 2007 plans that remain a part of the current Peace Bridge Expansion smorgasbord: “The preferred alternative also includes a visitor center, duty free shop and a 477 space parking garage. It is these attributes of the alternative that would result in the highest impacts to the low income residential neighborhood…”

It isn’t difficult to imagine that the views expressed in the November 29, 2007 EPA letter were as harshly received by supporters of Peace Bridge Expansion as the subsequent efforts in August 2012, and that the GSA team was aware of the repercussions of making such a bold proposal. History has shown that there is one thing even more predictable than traffic delays at the Peace Bridge on a summery Friday afternoon: Government officials and politicians in Albany and Washington, DC, will find new ways to circumvent their legal and moral obligation to address the high rate of childhood and adult asthma that has been scientifically linked to diesel fumes generated by Peace Bridge truck traffic.

Arthur J. Giacalone, is a semi-retired attorney who lives with his wife and teenage children in the Village of East Aurora, New York. He writes about New York State’s zoning, land use, and environmental laws at withallduerespectblog.com.

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