Anything but peace at the Peace Bridge

Political dispute and deception mar a once-amicable relationship between U.S. and Canadian border authorities


The Peace Bridge used to live up to its name. Now, those long-lost days of tranquility and friendship must seem a distant memory to authorities on both sides of the Niagara.

With all the political turmoil and violent disputes plaguing the globe, and with needs statewide for reform to New York’s prisons and educational systems, this dispute with Canadian officials must be resolved before “Canadian diplomatic crisis” is added to the United States’ ever-growing list of concerns.

More than $150 million is currently devoted to multiple improvement projects at the bridge and the nearby plaza, as a series of infrastructure developments aimed at reducing traffic congestion by increasing queuing space, adding more truck lanes and widening approach ramps broke ground last month.

Despite this seemingly positive development, Canadian hackles are raised over the deceptive behavior by Governor Andrew Cuomo and program manager Maria Lehman, who attempted to avoid publicizing details of construction projects until after the deadline for legal objections.

This sneaky political maneuvering will only exacerbate the ongoing legal dispute between the two contingents of the Peace Bridge Authority.

The litany of complaints expressed by both sides and documented in legal papers accumulated over two years of disagreement range from claims of sexual harassment, improper hiring and firing and defamation.

Clearly, tensions are high between the two countries’ authorities. Many of the complaints reveal practices that are questionable at best, and undeniably immature. Canadian general manager Ron Rienas, who the U.S. contingent says has “gone rogue,” is accused of using his position to secure employment for his son, while hostility still lingers over Canadian Vice Chairman Anthony Annunziata’s dubious decision to call Lehman “the governor’s concubine.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. officials’ behavior has been far from perfect, often approaching incompetence. Court papers reveal that U.S. authorities insisted on paying $2 million for a property despite the Canadian’s successful lobbying for a $1 million payout, and mismanagement bordered on cattiness when authorities published a press release detailing their request for Rienas’ dismissal.

Sadly, these examples are only a selection made from a far larger pool. It reflects an administrative mess of inappropriate behavior, immaturity and hostility that has thus far resulted in not just poor public relations but also inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

This deeply unflattering history has culminated in a new lawsuit from the Canadians, who allege that Kavinoky Cook, the authority’s former law firm, which for the past 30 years has represented both sides of the bi-national group, is now only working for the United States, and is refusing to turn over files, documents and emails.

The newest development in an incessant and unnecessary conflict serves to further reveal the pettiness that epitomizes this disagreement. The authority has new lawyers, new projects to focus on and new problems to solve – with that comes a need for new attitudes all around.

At a time when the United States is in conflict with so many nations already, and struggling to maintain fragile diplomatic relations with others, an amicable relationship with our neighbors in the north in more important than ever.

Ultimately, both sides need to grow up. Clearly, poor decision-making and petty politicizing has run amok among the Peace Bridge Authority for years, and it’s time for that to change – it’s time for a clean slate.

It has to be said: Let’s not burn any bridges.