West Side residents keep up fight against Peace Bridge Plaza expansion

Aug 20, 2012

A few weeks ago Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Buffalo announcing a preliminary deal for expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza.  The state will buy two-blocks of Busti Avenue for $15-million in order to demolish a row of historic homes and the former Episcopal Church Home where a duty free store would be built.

But as WBFO & AM-970'S Eileen Buckley reports, some West Side residents are upset with these plans that they say would further harm the air quality and a historic neighborhood.

"We think there is something very wrong with this. The devil is in the details," said Kathy Mecca, Columbus Parkway resident.  

Mecca has been wrapped up for years in the long-time fight between residents and Peace Bridge Expansion project.  Mecca is outraged.

"When the Governor comes to town and starts cutting deals with the mayor and gets the council man for this district on board, and decides that we are going to be giving away city streets in exchange for an arbitrary sum of money," said Mecca. 

But Mayor Byron Brown says he believes issues have been properly addressed.

"Spent a lot of time with the governor...on bringing to their attention of all of the concerns of the surrounding neighborhood and the  surrounding community. A lot of work has been done to addressed some of those concerns  which got me very comfortable in moving forward," said Mayor Brown.

That's a big turnaround from the Mayor's call in June to delay the raising of seven Busti Avenue homes until more transparency was given on the  expansion project.

"We've wanted a whole host of things done, a host of modifications.  I've been able to sit directly with the Governor and give him a list of concerns from the surrounding neighborhood.  The governor has given me his personal assurances that this project will be done in a way that will be good for the city, good for the region and good for the surrounding neighborhood," said Mayor Brown.  

But Mecca does not believe laws and regulations are being followed. Residents demand completion of an environmental impact study on how the air quality from the plaza traffic would affect the neighborhood. 

"They can not proceed with this project and that's what they want to avoid because they know they never can complete it.  The continue to make feeble attempts of doing it.  They are not doing it according law.  They're not doing it according to the regulations and we find anything less than that unacceptable," said Mecca. 

Mecca said air quality reports from the EPA shows the dangers of diesel fumes, but believes it’s being ignored by political leaders. 

"The World Health Organizations, just two months ago, declared that diesel fumes is definitely a carcinogen that causes lung cancer.  All of this information was presented to these key, elected officials.  They chose to ignore it. And so now as taxpayers we need to ask them why," noted Mecca. 

"The air monitoring has already started, something that I pushed very aggressively for, as did members of the city council.  We have received a study on the environmental and asthma impacts in that neighborhood, something that I had asked for," said Mayor Brown.

Late last week, Governor Cuomo did announced that the Housing and Urban Development agency helped clear a lien from the land where the former Episcopal Home stood that will allow the state to control it for future development and will move the  $20-million plaza expansion project forward.  It could begin this fall to replace an outdated customs building in Buffalo.  Something the Mayor is confident will be economically good for the city.

"We received an economic development study and analysis, something that we've asked for.  And we've asked for other things that we believe are forth coming. So that is how we were able to get to the point where we could reach a preliminary agreement to sell two blocks of Busti to the state of New York," said Mayor Brown.

Despite the years of delays in moving Peace Bridge expansion forward, Mecca calls this renewed effort “fast-tracking”

"Myself and my neighbors will be living under overhead ramps, just like the Skyway with lights 24-hours a day.  And now what we have done is elevated the diesel emissions and nobody has studied how that is going to change and alter the environment," said Mecca. 

West Side residents living near Buffalo's Peace Bridge are planning a reunion to celebrate what they call two-decades of Peace Bridge "treachery, trickery and truckery."   It's being organized by the Buffalo West Side Environmental Defense Fund and the Columbus Park Association. 

Mecca and other residents will gather in the early evening on Tuesday, August 28th for a fundraiser to toast what they call the charettes of the past, present and future.  

Mecca and residents are vowing a legal fight to keep a duty free store out of Prospect Hill—a historic West Side District.