PBA Truck Plaza: Making Buffalo a Loading Dock for NAFTA

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.]


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