Schumer Demands DHS Keep Buffalo-Niagara As High Risk Area Eligible For Federal High Threat Funding
Department Of Homeland Security Is Set To Announce UASI Eligibility As Early As Next Week
Schumer: Given Multiple High Risk Factors in WNY, There Is No Excuse For Excluding Region From Grant Program
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today demanded that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) keep the Greater BuffaloNiagara region as a high risk area and therefore eligible for federal high threat funding under the FY 2007 Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). DHS is set to announce eligibility and guidance for applications as early as next week. Schumer said that it is imperative that the BuffaloNiagara area be deemed eligible in recognition of the threats that face this border area, its vulnerability to terrorist attack, the history of nascent terror networks in the area (and in adjacent border areas), and the critical importance of its assets.
Greater BuffaloNiagara is a high risk area, and the federal government has a responsibility to help secure the region, Schumer said. This year the Buffalo area is at risk of losing altogether its access to UASI funding. Given the multiple high risk factors in this are, there is no excuse for excluding the Greater BuffaloNiagara area from this grant program for which it should properly be eligible.
The BuffaloNiagara area contains numerous assets that are vulnerable to attack and are critically important to the state and the nation. Buffalo is home to a busy border crossing with Canada that provides a port of entry into the United States for 13 million people a year and approximately $300 million in goods. This commercial and tourist traffic flows across four international bridges the Peace Bridge, the Rainbow Bridge, the QueenstonLewiston Bridge and the Whirlpool Bridge all of which are symbolically significant and present potential terrorist targets. Moreover, the nations highest concentration of hydroelectric power sources is located in this area, providing a major electricity source for the Eastern United States. The counties of Erie and Niagara and the City of Buffalo, combined, contain one nuclear facility and over 260 facilities that are considered EPA Tier II facilities based on the presence of significant hazardous chemicals or materials including chlorine. Finally, the region is home to the iconic Niagara Falls, visited by approximately 14 million people annually. These vital assets, clustered near a major international border crossing, are far from immune to terrorist threats. The areas Joint Terrorism Task Force has informed local authorities of multiple credible threats that led to terrorism investigations, and the Lackawanna Six who pled guilty to terrorismrelated charges were arrested in the Buffalo area.
In FY 2005, the BuffaloNiagara area was deemed high risk and then applied for and received UASI funding. In FY 2006, however, DHS determined that BuffaloNiagara was one of 11 candidate areas that were not eligible for UASI funds under the new risk analysis used by the Department. Only one other border region among the candidate areas was deemed ineligible in FY 2006. Last years DHS decision to overlook the BuffaloNiagara area was especially shocking given that other areas with less apparent risk, such as Kansas City, MO, remained eligible. Local representatives have expressed concern that DHS misapplied its own risk analysis methodology in FY 2006, and that these inaccuracies affected the outcome of the eligibility determination. Fortunately, last years UASI determination that BuffaloNiagara was not highrisk did not have immediate consequences because the BuffaloNiagara area was still able to receive sustained funding in FY 2006. This year, there is no such protection.
Schumer today urged DHS to evaluate the BuffaloNiagara area with great care to ensure that FY 2007 UASI eligibility, which is a prerequisite for the federal funding so desperately needed by our threatened urban areas, is determined in a way that is fair and accurate according to the rules set out by the Department. At a briefing on September 25, 2006, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff explained his philosophy regarding the distribution of homeland security grants as follows: First and foremost, to the extent the law permits, we use risk as the basis for giving money out. And risk is a combination of what the threat is, what the vulnerability is and what the consequences would be of a successful attack. Schumer said that according to each of these criteria, the BuffaloNiagara area is unquestionably among the nations highestrisk urban areas and should be eligible to apply for UASI funds.
In a personal letter to Chertoff, Schumer wrote, I have no doubt that the highrisk BuffaloNiagara area deserves access to Federal UASI funding in FY 2007 and beyond to prevent and prepare for terrorist threats. As you are well aware, the burdens of securing our homeland since the attacks of 9/11 have fallen heavily on local authorities and agencies. The Federal government must help to shoulder these burdens, and when it does so, it must use a fair and accurate process to ensure that funding reaches those areas that are most at risk. I believe that if such a process is applied, it will clearly demonstrate that the BuffaloNiagara area should be eligible to seek UASI funding.