BUFFALO, NY - The Peace Bridge Authority has seen a lack of progress for years, and now some Buffalo-area business leaders want to see change.
They have formed a new group and they hope to build consensus for a Peace Bridge plan that boosts the economy of Western New York. They are calling themselves The Western New York Leaders for Peace Bridge Progress.
"This has been going on for over 20 years to try to make improvements on the Peace Bridge, and specifically on the US side to move traffic, and to move traffic means to move business, and traffic means to move business in the right direction," says group co-chair Leonard DePrima.
Group members say their purpose is to better understand the Peace Bridge plan put forward by Governor Cuomo.
"We want to stand behind the Governor's initiative to see that his will to move is our will and that these projects begin to happen and that we can maybe turn away the negativism in WNY and make this project a reality," said DePrima.
While not going into specifics, community leaders told us that they want to build better business and a better environment around the Peace Bridge all while increasing safety.
"If everybody sees that it's a win for business, and a win for the community and a win for the bridge itself, that all those members will see themselves to voting positively and there will be no need for legislation, but again, we don't want to get into the politics," says DePrima.
They say the point of the group is not to make decisions, which is left to the bi-national Peace Bridge Authority, an agency most recently filled with drama and dysfunction. Instead, members say they want to become informed and pass information along to the community.
"It's a win-win for everyone. We need to get behind it. We need the media to get behind it to convey this message to everybody in WNY," says DePrima.
Former Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello, a recent appointee to the American side of the Peace Bridge Authority, spoke about the group's hope that discussions between both sides will move forward.
"We want them to be partners. We don't want the animosity. We don't want the confrontation. We want the consensus building that's been brewing on our side by all these stakeholders for quite some time," said Masiello.
We spoke with content partner Jim Heaney with InvestigativePost.org about the formation of the group.
"They strike me, more or less, as a Cuomo front group. It's a white, wealthy group of individuals who are political donors mostly to Democratic causes. Nine of the 22 have given money to the Governor. Over $50,000. So, you've got people who are kind of wired. A lot of them are developers who rely on state tax breaks, so they're a little beholden to the Governor, perhaps. And, you've also got people who are appointed by the Governor to important positions on state authorities. So, it kind of looks like the Governor has kind of rounded up some of his people and said go out and be a leadership group," said Heaney.
As far as the Governor's Peace Bridge plan goes, Heaney is not convinced that there is one.
"Nobody has seen it, if it exists. Now, you ask Sam Hoyt, there is no plan. But yet, you've got other people like Sean Ryan talking in detail about the plans. It has not been shared with the public. If it exists, it's been shared with selected insiders apparently as part of an effort to build support," said Heaney.
As far as the information that is out there about the plan, Heaney believes a lot of it is disinformation.
"Well, there is a lot of disinformation out there. I've been a reporter for 27 years in this town, I don't think I've ever seen such a concerted effort to mislead the public on the basic facts. The Governor's been screaming about how no money's been spent on the American side, for example. I did an analysis that aired last week, that showed that money that's been spent and money's that been earmarked, it's almost equal. And, a lot of what's been spent on the Canadian side, has been spent to alleviate problems on the American side. There was no land on the American side in order to make the improvements. So, the numbers don't bear out the Governor's claims," says Heaney. "I don't think they're there to make progress. I think they're there to advance the Governor's agenda. The Canadian officials, who I've been talking to, I just don't see this making a difference."