Washington, DC — Sponsors of a major expansion of the Peace Bridge international border crossing illegally spent taxpayer dollars on design and construction work before finalizing a mandatory federal environmental review, according to a request for investigation filed today with the White House by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is seeking an investigation by the White House Council on Environmental Quality to enforce federal prohibitions against agencies performing work before issuing a record of final project approval as required by law.
The Peace Bridge complex is one of the busiest passenger and commercial vehicle crossings between the U.S. (at Buffalo, NY) and Canada (at Fort Erie, ON). The Federal Highway Administration and New York State Department of Transportation are seeking to construct several entrance and exit ramps connecting the Peace Bridge complex to Interstate 190. The two agencies officially began final design and construction work on this project before issuing a “Record of Decision,” the last step in the requisite National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental review process.
According to documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, the two agencies:
- Funded and completed an extensive set of final engineering drawings, stamped by licensed professional engineers, for a predetermined design alternative before issuing a Record of Decision;
- Actually began construction on the project, using a barge carrying a crane to conduct soil borings, before issuing a Record of Decision; and
- Engaged in efforts to keep local residents in the dark so as to not “kick sleeping dogs,” and admittedly “brainwashed” the community into believing the project was beneficial to them, according to meeting transcripts.
Under NEPA, both agencies are required to examine multiple alternatives for this project. Not until the issuance of a Record of Decision is this examination considered final. Specifically, NEPA forbids public agencies from “committing resources prejudicing selection of alternatives before making a final decision.” PEER is asking the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees NEPA implementation nationwide, to direct the two agencies to immediately rescind their Record of Decision and halt further construction until a full-scale investigation is completed and corrective action taken.
“This type of activity makes a mockery of what is supposed to be an objective environmental analysis,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Deceiving the public with behind-the-scenes maneuvering signifies that these were not innocent mistakes.”
PEER first exposed illegal government actions tied to the Peace Bridge last May when it filed a complaint with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) after the agency unlawfully excluded information from the record showing substantially increased traffic and serious adverse health effects as consequence to a separate Peace Bridge project under its jurisdiction. The excluded records described how that project would worsen an existing asthma epidemic on Buffalo’s West Side, a low-income, minority community directly adjacent to the Peace Bridge. When the 60-day deadline for responding to the complaint arrived, GSA stated in a letter that they required another 60 days to formulate a response, citing the “complexity” of the PEER complaint.
“The Peace Bridge appears to exemplify boosterism trampling ethics,” added Ruch. “There is a pattern of underhanded, deceitful actions employed by multiple government agencies which treat legal requirements as speed bumps to be run over to reach their desired destination. We have every intention of staying on this case until these murky matters are cleared up.”