Congressman to DHS Secretary: You Caused Delays, Now Help Us Pave the Way
BUFFALO, NY – Following a visit by United States Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Michael Chertoff to the Peace Bridge linking Western New York to Canada, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) is expanding on discussions made earlier in the day by asking the Secretary to take several steps to help Western New York expedite construction of a new Peace Bridge.
“The federal government has strung the Buffalo area along for several years now with the prospect of Shared Border Management,” said Higgins in a letter to Chertoff. “Because the federal government, and specifically the Department of Homeland Security, has exacerbated the delay in the construction of a new Peace Bridge in this way, it bears some responsibility for enabling the bridge expansion process to proceed in an expeditious manner. “
In his letter to Secretary Chertoff, Congressman Higgins makes the following requests:
1. An extended term in the lease between Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration which would allow the Public Bridge Authority larger bonding capacity;
2. Immediate commencement of work with the Public Bridge Authority on preliminary design specifications for a US plaza; and
3. Additional Customs and Border Protection workers to minimize the negative environmental impact caused by idling traffic at the US (non-Shared Border Management) Plaza.
Attachment: Letter to Secretary Chertoff Re: Peace Bridge
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-3227
June 25, 2007
Hon. Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Re: How DHS can help Peace Bridge Expansion Project, post-Shared Border Management.
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
The subject of our meeting earlier today was the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the proposed imposition of a passport requirement on persons crossing the US-Canadian border. As I stated to you then, I disagree with DHS’ position on WHTI, and I believe that resources spent on WHTI would be better spent on human capital such as greater Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffing levels. I write today, however, to discuss an issue which was briefly discussed at that meeting but which was not principally addressed at that meeting, namely, the aftermath of the death of Shared Border Management (SBM) – the plan under which US CBP functions would be preformed in Fort Erie.
In our meeting earlier today, you confirmed that from the perspective of the Bush Administration, the proposal for SBM is dead, barring some unanticipated development. The federal government has strung the Buffalo area along for several years now with the prospect of SBM, and the need to plan around the prospect of Shared Border Management has caused a multi-year delay of the Peace Bridge Expansion project.
Because the federal government, and specifically the Department of Homeland Security, has exacerbated the delay in the construction of a new Peace Bridge in this way, it bears some responsibility for enabling the bridge expansion process to proceed in an expeditious manner. To that end, I respectfully make the following requests:
1) New CPB facilities at the US Plaza will be paid for by bonds issued by the Public Bridge Authority (PBA). Rents paid by the General Services Administration (GSA) to the PBA on behalf of CBP will finance the debt service on these facilities. The problem, however, is that if a standard lease is in place the bond markets will only consider the first ten years of this revenue to be applicable when considering the PBA’s total bonding capacity for the expansion project. If CBP and GSA were to enter into a longer term lease (thirty years, for example), this would increase the PBA’s bonding capacity to no additional cost to the federal government and would allow the project to proceed more quickly. I request that DHS support a long term lease for the CPB facilities at the US plaza.
2) In the deliberations and negotiations surrounding the former shared border management proposal, the Department of Homeland Security generally proceeded at a slow bureaucratic pace. After the environmental review process for the Peace Bridge expansion comes to a Record of Decision, which is anticipated in early 2008, I respectfully request your commitment that DHS will work expeditiously to bring the specific components of the US plaza to final design. DHS can demonstrate a true commitment to this project by beginning to work with the PBA now on preliminary design specifications for a US plaza.
3) The negative environmental impact of the US (non-SBM) plaza is a result of queued, idling traffic on the bridge and in the plaza waiting for CBP clearance. This queuing which causes this negative impact is caused principally by the shortage of CBP officers at the bridge. I appreciate your statement today that there would be a 12 percent increase in the number of CBP officers at the Peace Bridge and a 26 percent increase in overtime. These increased staffing levels are a starting point, and need to be enhanced further going forward.
I hope that after the long delays associated with the consideration of Shared Border Management, DHS takes the above steps expeditiously in order to advance the Peace Bridge Expansion Project.
Member of Congress