Peace Bridge agreement reached after months of cross-border dispute

WASHINGTON – Canada and the United States have reached an agreement on the future of the Peace Bridge following months of bad blood between Canadians and Americans on the 80-year-old committee that oversees the crucial southern Ontario border crossing.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., said Wednesday that the agreement — reached after several days of high-level discussions — will speed up as much as US$140 million in improvements to the Peace Bridge, one of the busiest border crossings between the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s called the Peace Bridge, it’s not called the Conflict Bridge,” Doer said in an interview from Buffalo following the announcement. “This is a good deal for hard hats, not lawyers.”

Doer was referring to recently passed New York state legislation that calls for banning the Peace Bridge Authority outright.

The ambassador had warned Cuomo that Canada would do whatever necessary to “protect our sovereignty” in the event the bill was signed into law, including going to court.

Cuomo assured Canadians on Wednesday that the legislation won’t be signed into law after the four-page agreement left the Peace Bridge Authority intact. The panel holds its next meeting on Friday in Fort Erie, Ont.

In recent months, Americans have complained that their Canadian counterparts on the 10-member board were deliberately dragging their feet on modernization projects on the Buffalo side of the bridge in favour of development on the Fort Erie side. Those allegations were met with outrage by the Canadians, who said most of the delays on the U.S. side were caused by American regulatory authorities.

The startling dispute included angry demands for ousters, bitter name-calling and public trash-talking, including one instance in which a Canadian on the board referred to a Cuomo ally as his “concubine.”

The hands-on involvement in recent days of Doer and David Jacobson, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Canada, was an indication of just how closely both the Canadian and U.S. governments were watching the discord on the Peace Bridge Authority, particularly in the wake of the much-ballyhooed Beyond the Border initiatives.

That Canada-U.S. pact on border co-operation and harmonization was signed with much fanfare by U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper two years ago.

Doer said over the weekend that Beyond the Border was not going to be “driven into the ditch” because of the Peace Bridge dispute.

At the Wednesday news conference, held at a Frank Lloyd Wright boathouse in Buffalo located near the bridge, Cuomo called the agreement a victory for both Canada and the United States.

“This is a win-win situation. It’s a win for New York, it’s a win for Canada,” Cuomo said. “A bridge only works when it works on both ends, and that’s basically the metaphor for today. The Peace Bridge works best when it works for Buffalo and when it works for Canada.”

The agreement calls for three projects to be undertaken quickly and simultaneously: a study into widening the U.S. plaza, a pre-inspection project to have U.S.-bound cargo trucks examined in Fort Erie to reduce congestion and pollution on the American side of the crossing and an array of improvements for the U.S. plaza, including a traffic study.

The pre-inspection pilot project will “proceed immediately,” the agreement states, and will continue for up to 18 months. A permanent, $30 million pre-inspection facility is planned although funding is still “to be determined.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version carried an incorrect first name for New York governor Andrew Cuomo.