Friday, November 03, 2006

Bridge expansion shouldn’t gobble up parkland: Redekop

Printed from the Niagara Falls Review

Bridge expansion shouldn’t gobble up parkland: Redekop

RAY SPITERI; John Robbins

Friday, November 03, 2006 - 02:00

Local News - Mayor Wayne Redekop says he supports shared-border management, but not if it comes at the expense of Fort Erie parkland.

Last month, town councillors were presented with a report recommending ratification of the Peace Bridge Expansion Project, which would include shared-border management as an alternative in a future draft environmental impact statement.

While council approved the report, an amendment proposed by Redekop - calling for shared-border management to not result in any parkland being removed from public domain - was defeated.

The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority would first have to purchase adjoining parkland from the Niagara Parks Commission, if it wanted to expand the bridge’s Canadian plaza near Mather Arch to accommodate shared-border management, said bridge authority general manager Ron Rienas.

A shared-border management facility would see customs officers from Canada and the United States working out of the same plaza on the Canadian side of the river.

Preliminary plans show the Canadian plaza expanding into the park along the west side of Niagara Boulevard, sandwiched between Mather Arch and existing bridge lands, to accommodate U.S. customs inspections operations.

There has been talk the bridge might try to interest the parks commission in swapping some portion of the parkland for compensation down the road. About five acres of land would be required for shared-border management, said Rienas.

But Redekop was not budging.

“Shared-border management makes a lot of sense and I fully support the expansion of the Peace Bridge,” said Redekop. “I disagree, however, that acres of land need to be accumulated beyond what’s already there. I’m not prepared to support more parkland being included in this (project).”

Redekop said he doesn’t think the Department of Homeland Security, one of the partners in the project, really supports shared-border management.

“Regardless of that, shared-border management can work and work effectively and at this particular border.

“But any plan of that nature that isn’t founded on real requirements, I don’t think is manageable,” he said.

“I have indicated … my concern about the notion that we give up parkland in Fort Erie, so that they (Buffalo) can have more parkland.”

Rienas, however, has said the issue isn’t about shared-border management, only about putting the issue on paper to be included in a future draft environmental impact statement.

A shared-border management pilot project at the Peace Bridge was announced by top Canadian and U.S. federal government officials in December, 2004.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the bridge authority began drafting preliminary designs to alter the Canadian plaza to accommodate U.S. customs operations.

Earlier this year, Homeland Security signed off on the design, giving the bridge authority the green light to move forward with detailed environmental examination of the plan.

Even after various studies are completed, there’s no guarantee shared-border management will be implemented, since the two federal governments have yet to finalize treaty terms.

Rienas said the bridge authority has “worked tirelessly” to reduce the amount of parkland that would be needed for the project.

“I believe we’ve been very successful to reduce the amount (of parkland), when you consider the Department of Homeland Security initially wanted 40 to 60 acres of land,” he said.

“When you take into consideration the requirements being imposed on other border crossings, I believe we’ve done remarkably well to come up with a plaza design that the Department of Homeland Security has, in fact, signed off on.”

He said the PBA has “explored every possible opportunity” as it relates to parkland, but unless additional land is found, shared-border management isn’t feasible.

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