Letter of Comment Presented at the First Grand Island Public Meeting on the Peace Bridge Expansion Project  

November 14, 2002 


Mr. Jake Lamb

Parsons Engineering

37 Franklin Street

Buffalo, New York 14202


Dear Mr. Lamb: 

I welcome the opportunity to present you with these comments because I believe that the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority has been mislead.  You have been asked to consider alternatives that are motivated by either political self-interest or the single purpose agendas of some special interest groups.  These misguided citizens believe that the construction of a signature bridge should take precedence over the need to protect and preserve our natural environment.  In reality the proposed alternative alignments discussed herein establish a gateway to Grand Island and not the City of Buffalo thus defeating the purpose of a signature bridge. 

Before I begin, I want you to know that these comments represent my personal views both as a resident of Grand Island where I have lived for 30 years and as a professional scientist intimately familiar with the workings of the Niagara River ecosystem.  My views do not represent those of any group, organization, government body or government agency.  

General Comments 

I disagree with the whole concept of this evaluation exercise.  The original twin span proposal if built would have been constructed using revenue generated from the business activity of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority.  Little or no public funding would be needed. The signature span driven by the personal agendas of a small group of malcontents would end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars.  I take exception to this blatant attempt to squander tax dollars on the long shot chance that a signature bridge will somehow cure the economic woes of the City of Buffalo.  I submit to you that much more than a bridge is needed to cure problems in this city that are really a function of poor government leadership and bureaucratic apathy.  

The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority should return to the original twin span alignment and complete the construction of the second span as soon as possible.  If this continued special interest group rhetoric does not end soon we will be left with a “pretty bridge” and a ruined urban and regional economy that is a byproduct of missed economic opportunity.  The City of Buffalo and this small group of special interests will once again prove their uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

The array of alternatives grouped into categories dubbed “Crossings South of Grand Island” and “Crossings at Grand Island” represent the most insidiously disastrous options for bridge alignment yet to evolve from your Bi-National Integrated Environmental process.  The crossings south of Grand Island would have severe impacts on a State designated Significant Habitat Area consisting of Strawberry Island, Motor Island (formerly Frog Island) and more than 400 acres of  submerged aquatic plant beds.  This area is nationally recognized as one of the most important spawning and nursery areas in North America for the Muskellunge.  It also retains international significance and has been formally designated part of an Important Bird Area of International significance by the National Audubon Society. 

The suggestion that a signature bridge should be built on or near Grand Island is inconsistent with the espoused theory that such a span should serve as gateway to the City of Buffalo. These alternatives merely define a gateway to Grand Island.  The mere suggestion is at the very least completely redundant.  Our gateway bridge, the South Grand Island Bridge, has been in place of decades.  This majestic span is a Grand Island hallmark.  To suggest or even imply that we need another signature bridge clearly demonstrates how ill conceived these alternatives really are. 

Comments on Crossings South of Grand Island 

The Upper Niagara River ecosystem is a tenuous integration of open water, vegetated shallows, wetlands and riparian uplands. The synergy arising from the integration of this diverse collection of habitats adds immense value to the Niagara River ecosystem. Segmenting this ecosystem with a multi-lane signature bridge will significantly degrade value of this natural resource causing a substantial decrease in species diversity and a corresponding decline in water quality. 

The proponents of the “Crossings South of Grand Island” alternatives have indicated repeatedly in the media that a span crossing the Niagara River between Strawberry Island and Motor Island would have no environmental impact that could not be mitigated.  In fact, a local State Assemblyman commented that bridge related impacts could be mitigated away by constructing bird watching and fishing stations on the bridge deck.  The entire notion would be laughable if it were not for the seriousness with which those suggestions were made.  Imagine taking your son or daughter on a bridge fishing trip where nearly all of the line on your fishing reel is needed just to reach the water surface and a day of fishing could result in acute hearing loss from the noise of passing traffic.  The bird watching stations would add a new dimension to this popular hobby.  Instead of looking at birds in their native habitat observers would get to see great blue herons on their way to the Motor Island rookery collide with bridge cables and fall to the pavement where they would be flattened by passing traffic.  Clearly, the suggestion of such a mitigation plan is an insult to anyone who has any respect for the environment. 

In general, alternatives SG-1 and SG-2 will adversely impact the ecology of the upper Niagara River and will undo the efforts by Federal and State agencies to preserve and enhance habitat during the last decade.  The State of New York, local businesses, fishing and environmental groups and the US Army Corps of Engineers working together as a team have invested nearly two million dollars in the restoration of Strawberry Island, the preservation of the great blue heron rookery on Motor Island and the planned recovery of wetlands along the east side of Beaver Island Park.  This entire investment and all of the ecological values that have accrued to date will be lost if a signature bridge is constructed between Strawberry and Motor Islands. 

The entire Niagara River corridor is designated an Important Bird Area of International Significance by the National Audubon Society.  This designation is not easily earned and is a testimony to the overall value of this ecosystem particularly in the area around Strawberry Island.  What this means is that certain bird species with global ranges must come to the Niagara River corridor to complete their respective life cycles.  The proposed alternative alignments would compromise this process in a way that could affect the global population dynamics of some of these avian species. 

Constructing a bridge between Strawberry Island and Motor Island at a point where the broad expanse of the Niagara River divides into two distinct channels multiplies the impact of an accidental hazardous materials release or an oil spill resulting from a vehicle accident. Instead of flowing down a single channel these pollutants will contaminate both the east and west channels making it difficult if not impossible to employ effective containment measures.  The loss of fish and wildlife resources in such an event will be catastrophic, but the effects are even more far reaching as potable water intakes are either contaminated or shut down to avoid potential contamination.  Beaches and marinas downstream of the incident along with shoreline property will also be adversely affected. 

A bridge spanning the widest part of the Upper Niagara River will require the installation of a number of support piers.  Placement of the piers in shallow water areas will be preferred as opposed to the deeper swifter waters of the river. Placement of piers in the shallow area between Strawberry Island and Motor Island will consume a large portion of the existing submerged aquatic plant beds and construction activities associated with their installation will destabilize the remaining submerged flora.  These plant beds serve as valuable spawning and nursery areas for a variety of fish species many of which are of recreational importance. 

Placement of installation of multiple bridge support piers will directly impact the flow, capacity and volume of the Niagara River. These changes could redirect current patterns accelerating the erosion of Strawberry Island as well as the Grand Island shoreline.  This erosion process will eventually lead to the destabilization of the submerged aquatic plant beds between Strawberry Island and Motor Island allowing bottom sediment to migrate into the adjacent Federal navigation channel increasing the need for maintenance dredging. 

The increased traffic associated with a multi-lane span traversing the river between Strawberry Island and Motor Island will introduce a substantial air pollution load to an area that is not currently exposed to such emissions. The release of nitrogen oxides, heavy metals and other compounds associated with automobile and truck exhaust will be continuous increasing the potential for entrainment in the water column during heavy rainfall or aerodynamic downwash events. In addition, the release of road surface drainage along the length of the span will add trace levels of oil, grease and other pollutants. Once entrained in the water column these contaminants will stimulate excessive algal growth especially in the slack current vegetated shallows depleting dissolved oxygen levels and establishing a detrital layer that will slowly chemically contaminate river bottom sediments.  I should point out that the shallow water sediments in and around Strawberry Island are one of the few areas within the entire Niagara River corridor that have not been chemically altered despite more than a century of industrialization.   

The historic value of Strawberry Island will be compromised by the proposed bridge alternatives.  At the time of colonization Strawberry Island was nearly two miles long extending from the foot of present day Hertel Avenue downstream to Motor Island.  The shallow water area between what remains of Strawberry Island and Motor Island was originally part of the historically larger island. This area was used as a staging area for British troops preparing to invade Black Rock during the War of 1812.  Since no surveys have been conducted it is likely that artifacts from this campaign may still exist in what is now shallow river bottom.  Construction of a signature bridge at this location will compromise these potential cultural resource values. 

Bird collisions with a cable stay bridge design will be substantial since the proposed alignment will act as a giant mist net frustrating the seasonal migration of bird species traversing the Niagara River corridor.  A bridge at this location will decimate the heron population on Motor Island particularly during the nesting season when activity is highest.  Scientific studies have shown that the potential for bird collisions increases substantially with this type of bridge design.  The construction of a bridge in the area near Strawberry Island will adversely impact the heron rookery on Motor Island that is now a nature preserve managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  In addition, the presence of this bridge will have a negative impact on  populations of the canvasback and American widgeon known to overwinter in this area of the Niagara River in record numbers. 

The tranquil setting of calm water and picturesque sunsets will be replaced with the unnatural superstructure of a signature bridge and a substantial increase in ambient noise levels.  The natural viewshed for the new State funded Beaver Island Casino will be marred by the looming structure of a bridge putting this entire investment at risk. In fact, the construction of a bridge on an alignment between Strawberry Island and Motor Island will result in the degradation or taking of park land, recreation lands, wildlife and waterfowl refuges and historic sites.  Specific impacts warranting full consideration under Section 4 (f) of the Federal Department of Transportation Act of 1966 include the following: 

a. Loss of the public boat launch at the foot of Sheridan Drive in Tonawanda and the degradation of Aqua Lane Park and the Erie County Riverwalk. 

b. Loss or destruction of the State designated significant habitat area between Strawberry Island and Motor Island that is part of Beaver Island State Park. 

c. Degradation of Strawberry Island a part of Beaver Island State Park and the heron rookery on Motor Island that is under the legal protection of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

d. Beaver Island Park, its beaches, trails and a public marina will be subjected to the negative aesthetic impacts associated with the visual intrusion of the bridge structure and the associated noise generated by bridge traffic. 

e. Aesthetic impacts adversely affecting River Lea at Beaver Island Park a property that is potentially eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. 

f. Loss of recreational duck hunting currently permitted within Beaver Island State Park and on Strawberry Island. 

Alternatives SG-1, SG-2 and SG-3 cannot be built without first razing and relocating the Town of Tonawanda Water Treatment Plant.  This would include partial excavation and reconstruction of the water intake tunnel that extends more than a half mile into the Niagara.  The relocation of this plant and the associated intake will merely increase the magnitude of adverse environmental impact associated with the construction of bridges along the proposed alternative alignments.  The costs associated with this project will have to be borne by the rate payers who make use of the drinking water provided by this facility. 

Comments on Crossings at Grand Island 

Alternative GI-2 is fundamentally flawed.  The assumption made by the proponent of this alternative is that the South Grand Island Bridges will be adequate for the increased traffic flow to and from Canada.  This is utter nonsense.  If this alternative becomes reality the endless traffic jams that exist at the existing Peace Bridge will merely be shifted to Grand Island.  Localized air pollution will increase and the pounding heavy truck traffic will insure that the South Grand Island Bridges will require continuous extensive maintenance and repair. 

The quality of life on Grand Island will decline significantly with either alternative. Island neighborhoods already segmented by the New York State Thruway Authority will become even more isolated. Traffic flowing onto the island will bypass the Grand Island business district causing further economic decline.  The bridges, their limited access highways and associated plazas will generate pollutants that will degrade water quality, disrupt wildlife movement and irreversibly consume hundreds of acres of woodlands, wetlands and stream habitat. 

The destruction of wetlands associated with either alternative will alter or destroy the natural systems that attenuate flood flows and assimilate the pollutants contained in surface water runoff.  Artificial flood and stormwater management systems would have to be built to replace these natural functions imposing a significant capital cost upon the Grand Island Town Government.  The cost of these infrastructure improvements will be passed on to residents in the form of increased property taxes and reduced government services. 

Park land and scenic area impacts subject to review under Section 4 (f) of the Federal Department of Transportation Act of 1966 will be lost or adversely impacted by both alternatives.  Alternative GI-1 will impact several marinas, a yacht club, the Beaver Island Parkway bicycle trail and several wetland preservation areas that lie along the proposed alignment of the highway and associated plaza.  Alternative GI-2 will adversely impact the Spaulding Boathouse located in the banks of the West River.  This structure is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is afforded special protection under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Both alternatives will impact the scenic State parkway corridor that runs along the west side of Grand Island. 

Finally, it is clearly apparent that the original twin span alignment adjacent to the Peace Bridge is the best alternative with the least amount of environmental impact. It will fully address the needs of the community for efficient management of traffic flow between the United States and Canada and more importantly will not require public funds for construction. That being said, there is another option for the location of the inbound truck plaza.  Instead of establishing a plaza adjacent to the Scajaquada Expressway (Route 198) consider moving it to the largely abandoned rail corridor that extends northward from the International Railroad Bridge to the Town of Tonawanda.  This linear corridor contains sufficient space for a truck plaza and a dedicated limited access highway that could significantly improve traffic flow and eliminate the hazards associated with the serpentine layout of Route 198.  An added benefit this corridor is that it can be easily linked to either Route 190 or 290.

In summary, the five alternatives proposed for Grand Island and the waters south of Grand Island will have substantive and far reaching adverse environmental impacts that cannot be neutralized by mitigation.  Besides excessive cost, all of these alternatives represent a needless intrusion into our community and the environment that defines the quality of life on Grand Island.  You need to reject these alternatives and move on.  If you choose to pursue any one of these alternatives I can assure you that I and my fellow islanders will make it our life mission to insure that a signature bridge is never built on or adjacent to Grand Island. 


                                                                                    Paul G. Leuchner