(WKBW release) U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday confirmed to New York Senator Charles E. Schumer that a pending agreement the U.S. and Canada on border management set to be announced in the next few weeks will include an agreement that will allow the prescreening of all U.S.-bound truck traffic on the Canadian side of the border.
Schumer has relentlessly pressed Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin and Secretary of State Clinton to include the Peace Bridge prescreening process in the major agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and Canada on border management policies. Secretary Napolitano confirmed that the new international border policy, set to be announced in several weeks, will allow prescreening of incoming commercial truck traffic on the Canadian side of the border.
“The Peace Bridge’s clogged arteries are about to undergo bypass surgery,” said Schumer. “Today, Secretary Napolitano confirmed that all of our hard work is paying off, and that the border agreement set to be released next month will clear the way for prescreening on the Canadian side of the border. Moving this traffic to the Canadian side will be a shot in the arm for tourism, businesses throughout Western New York and our overall economy. No longer will tourists and trucks be stuck for eons in smog-creating lines as they try to cross the bridge.”
A number of legal arrangements must be agreed upon by both countries before the prescreening can begin, and until recently, progress towards those agreements had been slow. Both border agencies must agree on the type of authority that American border agents will have in prescreening, how they will work with their Canadian counterparts, and a clear list of the responsibilities for each agency. Today, Secretary Napolitano confirmed that the 32-point plan for shared border management between the U.S. and Canada will include agreements that will facilitate prescreening of all U.S.-bound commercial truck traffic at the Peace Bridge. Previously, years of effort to forge shared border management protocols and systems ended in frustration and failure.
Schumer was a prime champion of the shared border management efforts and, once that effort stalled, has long pushed to move prescreening of U.S.-bound truck traffic to the Canadian side of the border in order to alleviate huge delays that have put a serious damper on international commerce and tourism.
At a hearing on the northern border in May chaired by Schumer, the Senator pointed out to Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin that the Peace Bridge is the third busiest commercial crossing in the nation, handling over $30 billion in commerce between the United States and Canada each year. The Lewiston Queenston crossing comes in just behind the Peace Bridge, as the fourth busiest crossing. Schumer, in response to concerns from community and business leaders in western New York who have experienced serious delays in both crossing the border and receiving their products coming from Canada, pressed the Department of Homeland Security to do more to alleviate these delays.
In subsequent conversations with Schumer, Commissioner Bersin responded to Schumer’s advocacy for better cross border integration by informing the Senator that Customs and Border Protection could prescreen all incoming truck traffic on the Canadian side. Moving the prescreening process to the Canadian side of the border will mean that any new Peace Bridge plaza on the American side could be much smaller. A more efficient prescreening process in Canada will result in fewer delays for truckers carrying goods into the United States, for tourists, and for day visitors seeking to take in Sabres or Bills games, or to dine at New York restaurants. It would greatly improve commerce between businesses on both sides of the border. Currently, 100% of all trucks must go through a congested screening process on the American side of the border. Under the plan set to be announced next month, 90% would be fully cleared on the Canadian side, with approximately 10% requiring additional screening in the United States. Suspicious vehicles entering the U.S. will be flagged as they came onto American soil, and made to undergo additional screening at the U.S. Port of Entry before entry could be permitted.
After the announcement, the Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) could potentially move forward with a plan for a smaller, $60 million plaza renovation that would be completed without additional federal funds. The plan takes up a much smaller area of land, covering 8 properties (7 of which are already owned by the PBA) rather than the 88 required by other plans. The proposal could support 12 to 13 primary inspection booths for trucks, an increase from the current number of 7, an additional 6 or 7 car inspection booths bringing the total to 17 or 18, and include 2 x-ray booths to replace an inadequate mobile unit. The plan also calls for a new Customs commercial building to increase the security of the plaza. Schumer has not endorsed a specific proposal for the plaza, but believes that establishing prescreening on the Canadian side of the border will lend itself to greater flexibility and options for a new Peace Bridge plaza.