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Conference draws ire of American bridge authority members

FORT ERIE, Ont. – After Canadian members of the Peace Bridge Authority jetted off to a conference in Ireland a few weeks ago, they say they returned with ideas for improving the international span between New York and Ontario.

U.S. members to the bi-national authority label all that a bunch of blarney.

The New York and Canadian delegations found themselves sparring again Friday, this time over a recent trip to Dublin by five Canadians serving on the board or staff. The New Yorkers are seething over Canadian travel to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association’s annual conference and label it a junket.

They sought to impose Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s limitations on such travel at the authority’s monthly meeting, only to be reminded by their Canadian counterparts that New York’s rules and the wishes of its governor simply don’t apply to them.

“Gov. Cuomo is not trying to dictate policy here,” said authority Vice Chairman Sam Hoyt, leader of the state delegation. “It’s U.S. members saying this just doesn’t look good. It’s inappropriate.”

Hoyt attempted to bring the bi-national board into compliance with Cuomo’s guidelines that limit extensive travel to one member and one senior staffer. But as with many matters before the authority over the past few years – especially those reflecting Cuomo’s wishes – the 5-to-5 vote meant the Hoyt resolution went nowhere.

Four Canadians led by Chairman Anthony M. Annunziata along with General Manager Ron Rienas (also Canadian) attended the Dublin meeting between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2 at a cost of about $15,000, according to authority records. The Canadian board members (including Annunziata, Rocco Vacca, Paul Colling and Santina Maccio) also collected their daily stipend of $150 for their attendance.

Canadian authority members have traditionally attended the international meetings for many years, with board member Anna Tartaglia of Ontario indicating Friday that important Peace Bridge projects such as Customs pre-clearance stemmed from ideas gleaned from distant conferences.

“That’s one instance of what we’ve achieved, and it would not have happened without our manager organizing that trip,” she said.

“Taxpayers don’t pay for it; it’s a business,” she added of the authority funds expended for the trips.

Rienas’ report to the board indicated about 500 bridge and turnpike officials from around the world attended the conference, including representatives of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. Attendees gathered information from sessions on “economics of transportation systems” and “procurement and contracting,” among others, he said.

He also said Peace Bridge Authority members learned new traffic control techniques from California’s Golden Gate Bridge officials that may apply to the local span’s upcoming redecking project.

“As is the case in all conferences, the opportunity for networking and discussing with vendors, other bridge operators and toll agencies was most valuable,” Rienas said in his report to the board.