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JUDGE BALKS AT FURTHER PEACE BRIDGE DELAYS <br> FAHEY SEEKS A SIGN THAT THE PARTIES IN THE SUIT ARE STRIVING FOR A SETTLEMENT

A judge Monday held off giving those involved in the Peace Bridge dispute more time to resolve their differences.

State Supreme Court Justice Eugene M. Fahey said he first wants to see the Peace Bridge Authority and the City of Buffalo reach out to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the Episcopal Church Home of Western New York.

Fahey said he probably would grant the request for more time next month, but only if he is convinced that all sides in a lawsuit against the authority are participating in settlement talks.

The parks conservancy and nursing home should be included in any deal to resolve the controversy, he said.

If they are not, Fahey said, he would rule on a lawsuit involving an environmental challenge to the authority's twin-span plan, regardless of any deal between the city and the authority. "That's the only way we can come to a solution," he said.

Lawyers for the city and the authority said in court that they intend to negotiate with the nursing home and the parks conservancy.

The parks conservancy and the nursing home had joined the city in a lawsuit contending that the state Department of Environmental Conservation inadequately reviewed the authority's plan to build a $90 million twin bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont.

Fahey previously has said he would rule Jan. 26 on the lawsuit.

But the bridge authority and the city -- both participating in an independent, binational review process to pick the right bridge design and plaza location -- asked for a two-month extension to give their engineers and planners more time to study the alternatives.

Fahey warned that the review process would not stop him from ruling if the nursing home and the parks conservancy are not involved in settlement talks.

So far, the nursing home has not been included in any talks, said Edward C. Weeks, president and chief executive officer of the Episcopal Church Home.

In the four months since Fahey first urged all sides to settle, there has been just one exchange of letters between the authority and Weeks' attorney, and that occurred last week.

In October -- days before Fahey was first scheduled to rule on the environmental challenge -- the authority joined Buffalo, Erie County and two private foundations in setting up a three-part review process to examine bridge and plaza alternatives.

A binational review panel composed of U.S. and Canadian engineers is looking at alternative bridge designs and plaza locations.

The review team will issue a final report and recommendation for the Public Consensus Review Panel, a citizens committee.

The review panel then will ratify or reject the recommendation. The panel was supposed to decide by Jan. 24 to meet Fahey's Jan. 26 deadline.

But the deadline has been pushed back to March 14.

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