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An Open Letter to Senator George Maziarz

I just listened to your interview with CBC radio show on the Peace Bridge and I am outraged by the misinformation you so casually fed to the interviewer, Carol Off.

As a senior elected official, you are no stranger to the community’s endemic health crisis because of exposure to high levels of diesel emission from the Peace Bridge plaza and how this crisis has played a major role in preventing the Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) and various other government agencies from obtaining a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) under the law.

Honing in on the effects of air emissions originating at the Peace Bridge complex, Dr. Lwebuga-Mukasa teamed up with the local hospital system and numerous other medical and environmental researchers, including John Spengler of the Harvard School of Public Health. In four peer-reviewed studies issued between 2003 and 2011, it was revealed that the Peace Bridge complex is the root cause of rampant illness plaguing Buffalo’s West Side community.

It is common knowledge that a final environmental impact study by the PBA has never been completed and for good reason. In 2000, New York State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Fahey ruled that the PBA expansion plans were illegal because it would segment the plaza project from the bridge and required a full environmental review as one project. The PBA abandoned both the plaza expansion and the twin bridge rather than complete an environmental impact study.

In January of 2012, the Federal Highway withdrew its funding and support as lead agency from the 2007 proposed plaza expansion after rescinding a final environmental impact statement that went on for 5 years: “…the community and resource agency concerns relating to historic impacts, relocations, and other environmental impacts were at this time becoming increasingly paramount.” The FHWA knew it was all about the EIS and that no amount of political power or organizational deception could alter that fact.

Last week, the Buffalo News reported that according to the PBA New York State is legally bound to conduct a full environmental review before not after it acquires private property, public streets or constructs new roadways for an expansion plan that is being kept under lock and key by the governor and his staff. Albany even refuses to release the plans to the PBA!

Albany is being investigated by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for a questionable real estate deal involving the acquisition of a historic 3.5-acre property which the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) paid 3 1/2 times more than the property was worth.

The same agency plans on using a shadowy process through the Department of State (DOS) to condemn residential streets in order to usurp the legislative powers of the Buffalo Common Council. Again ignoring the will of the residents who do not want the DOT, Albany, or PBA to dictate what this community needs especially when it will have an adverse impact on our health and environment.

It is well known that the West Side of Buffalo is a poor, minority neighborhood of about 15,000 people; 46% of us live below the poverty line (including 67% of families) and 69% are minority. We also have an asthma rate among children and adults that is four times higher than the national average. Many others including myself suffer from cancer, neurological disorders, heart disease, and other life-threatening illnesses.

The air in our community is toxic. Our neighborhood is immediately adjacent to the Peace Bridge, the second busiest international border crossing between the US and Canada. Nearly 3,000 large commercial trucks cross the Peace Bridge each day, and the toxic exhaust they emit permeates our residential streets. The West Side community is located downwind of the Peace Bridge plaza and bridge. The winds off of Lake Erie carry the diesel toxin deep into our neighborhood. A situation that can never be mitigated but only exacerbated because of politicians who ignore this force of nature.

Last week, Buffalo’s NBC News affiliate ran a story titled, “Studies show Peace Bridge neighbors pay with health,” which clearly documents the issues facing West Side residents.

In April, I brought our concerns to Washington, DC, at the National Environmental Justice Conference. And last December, the EPA formally acknowledged the West Side as a community of environmental injustice.

Instead of protecting innocent pregnant women, young children and adults from further toxic exposure, elected officials have signed onto Governor Cuomo’s priority to build the wrong project in the wrong place.

Your CBC interview should have been a game-changer not a languishing sentence for an impoverished community of environmental justice. Sadly, It only proved that politicians can conceal the truth but they can never change the facts.

We may not have deep pockets, hold elected office or other positions of power, but we know, Senator Maziarz, how to stand up to fabricated tales.

> Kathy Mecca, Buffalo

Kathy Mecca is president of the Columbus Park Association

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