FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 26, 2004
Schumer: Customs Report Says Shared Border Management For Peace Bridge Crossing Is A Viable Option
Schumer pushed Customs for months to provide report; Report says shared border management is possible but some legal and practical hurdles remain
Schumer calls for meeting between US, Canadian Customs with Peace Bridge officials to move plan forward
US Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has released a report setting forth how a joint US-Canadian border inspection facility can be established on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario. Schumer, who persuaded Congress to require the report in federal legislation last year, also called on US and Canadian Customs officials to meet with members of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA) to begin working out the details of the plan.
"What we have today is a road map for how to pursue shared border management at the Peace Bridge," Schumer said. "It's not a done deal and there are obstacles in our way, but at least we know that Customs thinks shared border management is viable, and that's a big step. Now we need to sit down with US and Canadian Customs and the Peace Bridge Authority to start to hammer out the details."
According to the Customs report, a joint facility on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge could provide traffic and security benefits to the crossing, such as better coordinated security efforts between US and Canadian law enforcement agencies. The report also states that PBA plans to move toll booths from the US to the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge will help make shared border management more feasible. While the report said that a shared border arrangement is possible, it also laid out several hurdles that would have to be overcome before such an arrangement could become reality. Chief among them are defining the scope of legal authority of US Customs officials on Canadian soil and securing the physical infrastructure of the Peace Bridge itself. According to the report, a treaty between the US and Canada could be necessary to get legal authority for US officials to be on Canadian soil.
Schumer asked Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner to meet with him, Canadian Customs officials and members of the PBA to discuss the benefits of shared border management for Western New York, and to start to work on the legal issues that still exist. "We're not out of the woods yet, but the signal from Customs is that we should continue to pursue shared border management as a realistic possibility," Schumer said. "Shared border management would help security, traffic, and it would get the US plaza and the trucks out of Buffalo's West Side Neighborhood," Schumer said. "That's why it is worth the extra effort to tackle these legal and technical issues."
Schumer said without the shared border facility, a larger plaza would have to be built on the US side that would require the demolition of hundreds of commercial and residential buildings. The Congressional directive, which was written into the conference report of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution for Fiscal Year 2003, said Customs was to detail "how a joint United States-Canadian border inspection facility could be established on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario." The proposed joint facility, which could include the creation of accord processing zones with shared facilities, staffing, technology and operations, would also have a huge impact on the ongoing Peace Bridge expansion project.
Although the provision was non-binding, Schumer appealed to Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson personally on March 19 and received Hutchinson's promise that the plan would be created and submitted. Undersecretary Hutchinson is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. Congress's directive to issue the plan was a major step because previously, only physical designs for the facility had been drafted. Detailed plans explaining the logistical details, political ramifications, and time-line for the facility will move the project much closer to construction.
"Shared border management at the Peace Bridge will keep commercial traffic flowing between the U.S. and Canada," Schumer said. "It will help bring the City of Buffalo's West Side back to life, and it will get the large, commercial diesel trucks out of Front Park and the adjacent residential neighborhood. This project is about more than just building a new bridge. It is a development effort that could create an entirely new gateway to the City of Buffalo and the United States."