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Another Voice: Deception marks Peace Bridge expansion plans

By Arthur J. Giacalone

The New York Times report that the Cuomo administration interfered with the Moreland Commission’s investigation into corruption is troubling, raising serious questions regarding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s integrity.

But Western New Yorkers need look no further than the Peace Bridge for reasons to doubt their governor’s commitment to open and honest government. The Cuomo administration’s handling of expansion plans for the U.S. plaza reveals a pattern of deception and disregard of the law.

An example of the Cuomo administration’s subterfuge is described in the Aug. 6 Buffalo News article, “Plotting at the Peace Bridge.” The audio of the April meeting of the Peace Bridge Authority paints an unflattering picture of the deceptive tactics used by Cuomo’s cronies to implement his expansion plans.

The words of Bridge Authority Chairman Sam Hoyt, project manager Maria Lehman and former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello reflect a disdain for anyone who questions the governor’s plans, and for any procedures that might slow down the process.

But the audio tape is merely one instance.

SEQRA, the state’s environmental review law, places an obligation on agencies to examine “long-term, short-term, direct, indirect and cumulative impacts” of an action, including land purchases or demolition of buildings. To circumvent this mandate, the Cuomo-dominated Empire State Development Corp. has insisted that there are “no current plans” to utilize the Episcopal site for plaza expansion.

The disingenuous nature of the “no plan” claim is underscored by statements made by the authority and Cuomo. A May 2012 PBA resolution lists potential plaza projects including the “redesign and relocation of the existing Duty Free Store to a larger, more functional area on the property currently occupied by the vacant Episcopal Church Home.”

And the governor’s August 2012 press release announcing steps to acquire the Episcopal Church Home property refers to the parcel as “a crucial block of land that will be a central part of the transformed plaza.”

Most troubling of all is Cuomo’s coercive use of the legislative process.

In 2013, a number of Cuomo allies in the State Legislature enacted a law aimed at dissolving the Peace Bridge Authority. Cuomo refused to veto the deeply flawed law, despite its factual inaccuracies and disregard of the authority as the product of an international compact between sovereign nations. Instead, Cuomo dishonored the legislative process by treating it as a negotiating ploy to win concessions from the Canadians.

So much for integrity.

Arthur J. Giacalone is a semi-retired lawyer who comments on land use and environmental issues.