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The twin span vs. signature span debate moved across the Peace Bridge Thursday night to a forum in the Fort Erie Town Library.

Nearly 40 residents heard the New Millennium Group of Western New York make its pitch for a signature span and a presentation on bridge types and life cycles from John Mander, a professor at the University at Buffalo, as well as an update on the Peace Bridge Public Consensus Review.

"There isn't much discussion about the Canadian side," said former Niagara Parks Commission Chairman Gary Burroughs, who served as host for the event.

"This is a really major public works project. With stakes so high, it seemed important to take a second look," said Gail Johnstone, chairwoman of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a permit to the Peace Bridge Authority to build its twin span, but the project is on hold because of lawsuits filed by local institutional and environmental groups. The authority, in turn, has sued the City of Buffalo to turn over necessary land easements.

Meanwhile, the Community Foundation, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the City of Buffalo and Erie County are paying for an independent study of the twin-span proposal and alternatives to the Peace Bridge Authority's plan for a second bridge.

Ms. Johnstone said the Public Consensus Review panel's consultants will present what they consider the viable bridge alternatives during a live public television and radio broadcast at 5 p.m. Oct. 6 on WNEQ-TV, Channel 23, and WNED-AM.

The documents will be put on the Internet for review the next day, at The community will have an opportunity to respond to the presentation during meetings Oct. 13-14, she said. A single alternative is expected to be presented to the bridge authority in early November.

While the focus is on a future bridge, many Fort Erie residents do not want to see the existing bridge demolished.

"Why could we not incorporate the signature bridge with the old Peace Bridge and keep the history,?" asked Cassandra Sharrow of Fort Erie, suggesting that it be limited to pedestrian traffic. "We'd be the only place in the world with an international river walk."

Thursday's meeting was a follow-up to a public forum conducted in Fort Erie on Aug. 24.

Mander said he would like to see a design competition for a new bridge. He said the plan for a companion twin span assumes that the current bridge, built in 1927, would last an additional 75 years.

"It is dubious it will last another 75 years without something seriously going wrong with it," he said.

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