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Mohawk council says new Cornwall bridge leaves old problems

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MASSENA — The new low-level bridge connecting Cornwall Island to the city of Cornwall, Ontario, is being opened to traffic this morning, but the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne says it is opposed to the opening until various issues are addressed.

The council’s objection is based on Canada’s policy of requiring Cornwall Island residents returning from the United States to cross to the mainland city of Cornwall to clear customs. The council also contends that the configuration of a new toll plaza will cause traffic to back up.

The council said it “does not support the bridge opening at this time” and still has concerns and issues yet to be addressed by Canada’s Federal Bridge Corp., the Seaway International Bridge Corp. and the Canada Border Services Agency.

In 2010, the Canadian government announced the construction of the new North Channel Bridge through a $74.8 million project planned in four phases. The high-level bridge, built in 1962, has reached the end of its useful life, according to a release this week from the Federal Bridge Corp.

Canadian officials said the first two phases are now completed: the new low-level crossing, toll plaza and temporary border agency plaza.

Plans call for the high-level bridge to be dismantled and for Brookdale Avenue in Cornwall to be realigned. The project is expected to be finished in late 2016.

Mohawk Council of Akwesasne spokeswoman Shannon Scully Burns said regular meetings have been taking place with Canadian border officials to reach an agreement on an alternative reporting mechanism.

Under the current plan, Cornwall Island residents returning home from the United States — even if they are merely coming from the American side of the Mohawk reservation — must drive past their home on the island, cross the new span to report to Canadian customs, and then drive back across the bridge to get home.

Canadian customs had been situated on Cornwall Island, but that station was shut down during a dispute with the Mohawks over Canadian border agents’ being armed.

“There are several different options that we’ve explored,” Ms. Burns said. “In other places in Canada they have phone-in and video phone-in. If it went through, there would be some kind of station on the island where people would call in. Or we would maybe have law enforcement that could be there.”

Other problems that the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne wants addressed include additional lanes at the new toll plaza and a joint emergency response plan.

The council said in a statement Thursday that all three agencies have failed to “address emergency-related concerns on the bridge, such as ambulance accommodation.”

A meeting is scheduled for Monday with the Canada Border Services Agency and other officials, Ms. Burns said. “That will focus on the actual border crossing issues and the alternative reporting system,” she said.

Traffic congestion is also a concern. “The new customs plaza has five lanes, and those lanes are useless if there are only two lanes at the toll booth. According to our estimations, there will still be long lines going from over the bridge to the island,” Ms. Burns said.

Federal Bridge Corp. President and CEO Micheline Dube said in the release: “The new bridge incorporates advanced technology in its design and construction. It is a tremendous project for the FBCL team to provide Cornwall, Akwesasne and surrounding communities a sustainable and effective Canada-United States link. Together with its business partner, the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, FBCL looks forward to a very bright future for this important international bridge crossing.”

But because of the unresolved issues, the council said it will not participate in any ceremonies to open the bridge, Ms. Burns said.

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