– EPA identified Lewiston-Queenston as alternative in 2007 –
The front-page cover story in the January 26, 2014 edition of the Sunday 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 Washington Bureau Chief, Jerry Zremski, a small group of concerned officials at the U.S. 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 twenty-one 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. [See 01-27-14 article here.] But it doesn’t surprise this observer that the GSA officials who 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 U.S. 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]. [Emphasis added.] [Click here for the Nov. 29, 2007 EPA letter.]
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…” [Emphasis added.]
“… None of the screened alternatives considered air quality, water quality or sediment analyses.” [Emphasis added.]
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…” [Emphasis added.]
It isn’t difficult to imagine that the views expressed in the Nov. 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, D.C., 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.
** Note: A good place to start for a summary of the scientific studies establishing the link between high asthma rates on Buffalo’s Lower West Side and bridge pollution is a May 25, 2013 report by investigativepost.org. **
** Note: A map providing a visualization of the geographic clustering of asthma patients in the vicinity of the Peace Bridge complex can be found in a study by Tonny J. Oyana, PhD, Peter Rogerson, PhD, and Jamson S. Lwebuga-Mukasa, MD, PhD. **
The next posting here will expand on the topics addressed in Jerry Zremski’s companion piece in the Sunday Buffalo News, “Critics call review process for expanded facilities deficient,” the continued failure/refusal of federal and state officials to assess the “cumulative impacts” of the multiple projects at and near the Peace Bridge intended to improve traffic efficiency. In doing so, it will assess claims by the Peace Bridge Authority’s general manager, Ron Rienas, that segmented environmental reviews are proper because the custom house expansion, new ramps, etc., are separate projects being built by different entities.
And future posts will look at the decades of what a notable jurist, the Hon. Eugene M. Fahey (currently an Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, of the New York State Supreme Court) once described as “strategems to avoid the required environmental review” of the cumulative impacts of Peace Bridge expansion plans. [See City of Buffalo v. NYS Dept. Of Environmental Conservation, 184 Misc.2d 243, 707 NYS2d 606 (Sup. Ct. Erie Co.).]
Visitors to this blog can go to the “Pre-WADR Archives” page for a sampling of the author’s prior commentary regarding past “strategems” deployed by officials and agencies, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s heavy-handed threats to dissolve the Peace Bridge Authority, and the Empire State Development Corporation’s deceptive purchase in June 2013 of the Episcopalian Church Home parcel for $4.7 million (property described as “blighted” and appraised at a mere $1.8 million).
With All Due Respect,
This posting has been reprinted in ArtVoice, Jan. 30, 2014.