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Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan on Thursday asked the U.S. Coast Guard not to close off debate on alternatives to the Peace Bridge Authority's plan to "twin" the existing 71-year-old span.

In effect, the New York Democrat's letter was a request to the Coast Guard that it delay finalizing the authority's plan for three months.

Moynihan said the authority's "twin bridge" plan "does not enjoy the full support of Buffalo's citizens, elected officials, civic and business leaders."

The unusual letter marked the senator's first formal attempt to intervene in the authority's permitting process.

The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency reviewing the authority's proposal. The comment period on the authority's application to proceed with the bridge expired at midnight Thursday.

In a certified letter sent late Thursday to the Coast Guard, the New York Democrat formally asked the Coast Guard to extend for 90 days the period during which opponents and backers of the authority proposal can comment and develop their plans.

"The Coast Guard won't finalize the authority's plan if they extend the comment period," said Moynihan's chief of staff, Tony Bullock.

Coast Guard officials could not be reached to comment immediately. It would be considered unusual for the agency to deny the appeal of a senator of President Clinton's own party.

Bullock said the senator is attempting to "keep arbitrary deadlines" from ending debate just when the public in the Buffalo area is showing more interest in building a "signature," world-class bridge, instead of the authority's plan.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, Moynihan will discuss his views on the issue during a special meeting of the Buffalo Common Council in Room 1417 of City Hall.

Moynihan is addressing the gathering in response to an invitation by Council President James W. Pitts, Mayor Masiello and Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Pitts also has invited representatives of the Peace Bridge Authority, proponents of SuperSpan, Bruno Freschi, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, and Matthew W.
Meier of the American Institute of Architecture.

Pitts said Thursday that Moynihan's visit "will provide the needed impetus to move this important project forward."

Moynihan also will attempt to set up a future meeting with the authority.

In his letter to Nick Mpras, chief of the Coast Guard's Bridge Administration Office, Moynihan said, "Public dissatisfaction with the authority plan has already given birth to two alternative proposals" -- one from a local business group, SuperSpan Upper Niagara, and the other from renowned bridge engineer T.Y. Lin and Bruno Freschi.

"Both of these proposals offer compelling advantages over the authority's 'twin' plan and have stimulated a great deal of community discussion and support."

"In view of this heightened public interest," he wrote, "Sen. (Alfonse M.) D'Amato and I have requested that Gov. Pataki ask authority board members to give these alternative proposals due consideration.

"Other groups, including the Buffalo Common Council Task Force, the Buffalo partnership, the Buffalo chapter of the American Institute of Architects and The Buffalo News have asked the authority to give other interested parties a chance to produce a consensus plan."

Moynihan also faxed a copy of his letter to the Coast Guard Thursday afternoon.

News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report.

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