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Just like last year, a newcomer has emerged as the leader of the U.S. contingent on the binational Peace Bridge Authority.

Paul J. Koessler, named to the authority board in November, was elected its vice chairman Friday by fellow board members.

Koessler, a former president of Alphagraphics' Western New York franchise, replaces Victor Martucci as the top-ranking American.

Koessler, a Buffalo resident, said he supports an open process in deciding what kind of bridge to build and listed as his main goal "getting us a good bridge as quickly as we can."

"I'm open to whatever works," Koessler said.

The Peace Bridge is run by a 10-member board divided equally between Canadians and Americans.

John A. Lopinski of Port Colborne, Ont., who had served as vice chairman last year, replaces Martucci as chairman.

The chairmanship alternates annually between the two nations.

Martucci is resigning for family and business reasons but will remain on the board until Gov. George E. Pataki names his replacement.

Martucci, a vice president of Marrano/Marc Equity home builders, joined the authority in August 1999, at the height of controversy over the authority's twin-span plan. He took over as chairman five months later.

Koessler assumes his leadership role as the authority plans to conduct a new binational environmental review, which will help to determine what kind of bridge and U.S. plaza to build and where.

Clinton Brown, co-founder and spokesman for SuperSpan Upper Niagara, said he's encouraged by Koessler's expanded role.

"Paul Koessler has a great track record in business and civic leadership," Brown said.

The move "shows the authority is trying to do the best for Buffalo and Fort Erie," Brown said. "This is great news."

A spokesman for Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said he is optimistic the binational process will proceed smoothly.

"I would hope he would have an open mind as Martucci had," said Peter K. Cutler, Masiello's spokesman. "I certainly know that we can expect Mr. Lopinski to be cooperative. Hopefully, the changes won't cause any problems in affecting the process."

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