Consider what happened with this New London community, when drug giant Pfizer took over a neighborhood--after a long, hard fight by residents--only to abandon their facilities when hit by the recent economic downturn.
Next, take note of this quote, written in an email to BR by Ron Rienas (top image), general manager of the Public Bridge Authority, in reference to the PBA owned homes in the Columbus Park - Prospect Hill neighborhood:
"If the capacity expansion project does not proceed the houses will still be demolished. If the capacity expansion project proceeds the houses will be demolished. Either way the houses are demolished."
The intentions are clear, though the reason is elusive. So what if the houses come down, and what if the truck plaza expansion is blocked? In the balance, other than the PBA owned properties, are another 80+ homes. Though some homeowners have opted to sell and move, many would like to stay put.
The Canadian run PBA considers itself beyond American jurisdiction, and without any need to answer to American standards. At the same time, Rienas says that a "ratified contract" with the City of Buffalo must be upheld because "a deal is a deal." This double standard, of relying on a contract (which, according to environmental attorney Robert E. Knoer of The Knoer Group, PLLC, may not actually be legally binding) and the PBA's disregard for American law, further muddles a quandary that has been batted about for years. According to Knoer, he has looked at the partnering agreement Rienas refers to as a "ratified" contract, and says it is more likely a "gentlemen's agreement" that was made under a different administration, with key players that are either no longer in power or deceased.
"As to the binding nature of the document," says Knoer, "it only requires the City to make 'best efforts' to accomplish the tasks. Making 'best efforts' as the agreement recites in clause 2, would not include violating other laws even if the document is a binding agreement properly adopted by the Common Council." And perhaps in what is the most hopeful statement to those living in the shadow of the plaza, Knoer says. "No agreement can bind the exercise of sound discretion by a later common council."
Rienas also talks about a revenue gain to Buffalo every time the matter of the plaza comes up, but there are no figures forthcoming to support that.
"Frankly," Knoer says, "the trucks impair tourism. Buffalo benefits from tourism--not the trade goods rumbling across our highways and spewing pollution in our neighborhoods as they travel on to the south--where the jobs went years ago.
"According to the PBA, they are not bound by any New York or Federal Law including NEPA, SEQRA, or historic preservation laws. I have always been amazed by the utter lack of concern for that concept shown again and again by elected officials and the general public."
And then there's all those residents of the West Side that rely on inhalers to deal with their hot-spot of asthma cases. Rienas has questioned in the past, why people [in the Columbus Park - Prospect Hill neighborhood] would want to live there then? The question is simplistic, but the answer is easy: Those who are against the idea of a truck plaza butted up to, or replacing their properties want to continue to live in their homes without more foul air. In fact, what they hope is that the whole schmear will be moved elsewhere, leaving their neighborhood at least intact and, at best, restored to the Olmsted vision for this prime piece of waterfront property, with the incredible vistas it once enjoyed.
"This entity controls what is undeniably the most important piece of transportation infrastructure in the City of Buffalo," Knoer states, "and yet no one seems concerned that they have taken a public position that they are not bound by City of Buffalo, New York State or federal laws. They even gave them eminent domain authority. I am curious what your readers might think on that issue."
Your thoughts are welcome.
[Author's note: At first noted as an anonymous source by me, the attorney quoted in this article has since requested that he be identified so that those interested in this important public debate can consider the source of all comments and statements from either side. The attorney is Robert E. Knoer of The Knoer Group, PLLC. He has declined to make further statements as the issue of what laws the PBA is subject to remains pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York under docket number 04-cv-465. He referred all further inquiry to documents filed in that proceeding which include the full arguments by both sides as to the applicability of New York, US, Ontario and Canadian law to the actions of the Public Bridge Authority.]