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WINDSOR GETTING MORE CUSTOMS STAFF

Canadian customs is sending 61 additional inspectors to Windsor, Ont., to speed traffic leaving the United States via Detroit, but Canada has no plans to increase the present force working at Niagara River bridges.

"At the moment, we are assessing volumes at the Niagara bridges," Colette Gentes-Hawn, spokeswoman for Canadian customs, said Thursday. "We have no immediate plans to increase resources there."

The announcement of the increased force was made by Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, whose riding, or parliamentary district, is in the Windsor area.

The boost in resources might carry political overtones. Gray, a member of the Liberal majority of the Canadian Commons, faces re-election some time in the next eight months, as does every member of Parliament.

There is some irony in the Liberal government's decision to leave the four Niagara River bridges out of this allocation of resources.

Gray is the right-hand man to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whose nephew, Raymond, has served as ambassador to Washington.

Ambassador Chretien, in step with Canada's Liberal government, has been a staunch defender of the Peace Bridge Authority's plan to expand the facility with a twin span and the authority's devotion of $20 million to expand truck inspection and other facilities on the Fort Erie, Ont., side of the bridge.

Ambassador Chretien, who was a strong opponent of the Buffalo-based "signature bridge" crusade, recently received a coveted assignment as envoy to France.

The four Niagara bridges, particularly the Peace Bridge and Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, have experienced continuing delays in moving traffic from the United States to Canada, particularly trucks.

Nevertheless, Jean D'Amelio-Swyer, spokeswoman for Canada Customs in the Niagara area, said she is not "personally aware" of any requests by the Peace Bridge Authority or the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, which operates the Rainbow, Whirlpool and Lewiston-Queenston spans, for increased Canada Customs personnel.

Irving Rubin, executive director, Eastern Border Transportation Coalition, said he is certain both local bridge agencies have pressed for more Canada Customs personnel. Rubin said it would not be difficult for Canada Customs to see for itself how traffic across the Niagara, especially truck traffic, has increased.

The Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association, Rubin said, periodically publishes traffic data for all border crossings.

Gray said the 61 inspectors assigned to Windsor would replace part-time and summer inspectors and fill gaps left by normal attrition.

Rubin said this means that the work force at Windsor may not actually be increased, leaving the possibility that the return of summer inspectors to college and attrition may leave the force along the Niagara River depleted.

D'Amelio-Swyer denied this, saying "there has been no reduction in force" at the four local bridges.

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