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The president of Detroit's Ambassador Bridge said Tuesday that his company could build a span across the Niagara River in two years.

Dan Stamper said his company owns 80 acres on both sides of the river that the firm could use to connect the privately owned bridge with the Niagara Thruway and the Queen Elizabeth Way. Stamper projected that the cost would be $250 million, including the links to the expressways.

Paul J. Koessler, vice chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority, called Stamper's assertion "ludicrous." Koessler says the authority has a "franchise" from the Canadian government that gives it the right to build any span six miles north or south of the existing bridge.

Peace Bridge General Manager Ron Rienas said the Canadian government as recently as November affirmed the authority's exclusive right, dating from the 1920s, to build any new vehicular bridge.

Rienas said the authority owns two parcels of land on the Canadian side that the Ambassador Bridge would need to build its span and that the authority would not sell it to the company.

Stamper's projections, Rienas said, "are irresponsible because they are not credible."

Legislative sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Stamper's company has not applied to any of the U.S. government agencies that would have to authorize such construction.

Stamper made the assertion to reporters at a luncheon of the Canadian American Business Council, which hosted a speech by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

McGuinty said his government will use all its influence to spur construction of a third bridge connecting the Detroit and Windsor, Ont., metropolitan areas.

Expansion of bridge capacity at Detroit, McGuinty said, is essential to his government's goal of buttressing binational trade of autos and auto parts.

A new Detroit area span is planned for 2013, he said, "but none of us can afford to wait that long."

In response to questions, McGuinty said indecision in Buffalo about how or when the Peace Bridge would be expanded might negatively influence decisions that the Ontario government is making on investments in infrastructure between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, Ont.

On another topic, McGuinty said he met with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Monday to voice his concerns about the effect of a proposed passport requirement along the northern border.

He said he told Chertoff that he is very worried about the effect that a proposed passport mandate would have on casual day trips across the border.

"Don't get hung up on the passport notion," McGuinty said Chertoff told him, indicating that the United States may settle on some less cumbersome means of personal identification. President Bush has ordered a review of the proposal.

James J. Blanchard, U.S. ambassador to Canada in the Clinton administration, told The Buffalo News that the federal government should "simply kill" the proposal to demand passports in 2008.

John J. LaFalce, a former congressman from the Town of Tonawanda and a senior adviser to the international business group, said that it is up to Canadians to end the "timidity" that restrains them from protesting the passport proposal that the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments announced April 5.

LaFalce, who was at the luncheon, said he will be be working with Jon Allen, a political specialist at the Canadian Embassy, to persuade the U.S. government to drop the idea.

Allen helped him in 1997-98, LaFalce said, when he killed a plan to require Canadians to submit to exit checks when heading home from the United States.


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