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Lights on the Peace Bridge

We have a new “feature” in the historic Prospect Hill Columbus Park district. The Public Bridge Authority made good on their plan to light up the Peace Bridge. A project that was announced by the authority last summer.

Spending over $1 million dollars to bathe the bridge in colored lighting demonstrates what is and what is not a priority for the authority.

Columbus Parkway residents have tried for 10 years to hold the PBA accountable for the nine properties they own on Busti Avenue. The PBA, in turn, has ignored and dismissed complaints from the community. They have intentionally blighted all but one (they lease it out to the Feds) of the properties including the historical S. H. Wilkeson mansion, ca. 1867.

Last October, a hazardous conditions complaint was filed with the Common Council to bring this issue to the attention of the full Council. Photos of the rotting houses circulated throughout the council. Several councilmembers were shocked at the deplorable conditions of the block of homes that were once vibrant owner-occupied residences. One councilmember branded the PBA “slumlords.”

The Council sent the hazardous conditions complaint to the Department of Inspections for further review. Commissioner James Comerford determined after the properties were inspected, that the PBA had failed to comply with city housing code.

Mr. Comerford directed the PBA to correct all housing code violations on all of the Busti Avenue properties by May 1, 2009.

Six months has passed since residents filed the hazardous conditions complaint. Several months have passed since the PBA was given a directive to fix the houses.

Where did the PBA end up making a $1 million dollar investment? On the bridge, of course.

Not one penny went into the rehabbing of the Busti Avenue properties. A promise made good by PBA General Operations Manager Ron Rienas, who has defiantly stated over and over that the PBA will never invest in rehabbing the Busti Avenue properties. The only money the PBA will dish out, said Rienas, would be to demolish the properties.

So where does this leave the residents who have been forced to continue to live with these hazardous conditions? Now they can look out their windows at night and admire the hues of color emanating from the bridge, which softly bathe the rotting roof of 757 Busti or the imploding walls of the once grand civil war house at 771 Busti.

What should city lawmakers expect when the May 1 housing violation deadline comes and goes? Not much. The PBA operates above the law. Why shouldn’t they? They are the untouchables in this town. They do what they want, when they want. If they chose to spend $1 million dollars on light bulbs instead of respecting the laws of the City of Buffalo—whose business is it?

Lighting up the Peace Bridge was another self-serving decision by the authority. It stands as a test to see which entity will cave in first, the city or the PBA.

Every single board member serving on the PBA is aware of the slumming conditions of the Busti Avenue. They all know about the directive Commissioner Comerford gave. It’s been a very hot topic at board meetings. The cost of fixing the properties has come before them at several of the meetings.

This could have had a different ending. The PBA board could have voted to rehab the Busti Avenue properties, thus voting to respect the quality of life here on the West Side. After all, we deserve no less than the residents of Fort Erie.

Instead, the board decided to continue to implement a process that has been dirty for decades. It pitt’s one side of the border against the other where one community wins and the other one loses.

The Public Bridge Authority has never been a public servant acting in good faith in this historic community. They have no qualms about abandoning their responsibilities as a public agency in our city.

So are we back to square one? Will the city go the distance with the PBA over the Busti Avenue properties? Will the Busti Avenue properties fall victim to demolition by neglect?

Will Prospect Hill Columbus Park residents continue to be victimized by an all-too-powerful public authority that seems incapable of applying the principles of good faith? Only time will tell.

Kathy Mecca

President, Niagara Gateway Columbus Park Association

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