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County manager calls on congress to override Obama administration

by jmaloni
Wed, Jun 29th 2011 11:05 am

Says DHS left WNY vulnerable despite 'high risk' classification

Niagara County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz called on sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to stand up to the Obama administration over a decision to divert funding for homeland security from Western New York and its numerous international border crossings in a letter released to the media on Tuesday.

The letter, sent to Schumer and Gillibrand two weeks ago, details Niagara County's concerns over a decision by federal Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to withhold more than $5 million spent annually to secure Western New York and its heavily trafficked international border with Canada.

The Obama DHS's decision to gut funding for vulnerable border areas, while continuing to lavish funding on such cities as New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, comes even as another executive branch mandate, a federally imposed radio "narrowbanding" requirement, is set to cost county taxpayers several million dollars.

In his letter, Glatz reminded the senators that, "the Erie/Niagara region has been classified as a 'high risk' region (by DHS) since 2003. The characteristics that produced that classification have not changed. The area is still the home of a major electrical generation plan, has one of the highest concentrations of chemical storage facilities in the nation, is home to Niagara Falls, a world-class tourist attraction drawing over 13 million visitors annually, and the site of four international bridges."

Glatz, who consulted closely with Niagara County Legislature Community Safety and Security Committee Chairman Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, and homeland security consultant Carl Calabrese in drafting the letter, noted that the decision to cut Western New York's homeland security funds is bizarre based on the statistics for the region alone.

"Last year, 13.8 million border crossings occurred at these bridges," Glatz wrote. "The Peace Bridge is the single busiest passenger crossing along our entire northern border. The amount of commerce and trade that crosses these bridges would produce serious economic problems for America and Canada if ever disrupted by a terrorist attack."

Glatz also pointed to a major study of border security conducted by a Washington, D.C.-based think tank: "A recent study by the Brookings Institute clearly identified the northern border (as opposed to the southern border) as being the major point of entry into the United States by potential terrorists. This set of vulnerabilities and risks cannot be easily replicated in other regions regardless of population size."

Glatz released the letter today as part of Niagara County government's commitment to openness. The letter was held back for approximately two weeks out of deference to Schumer and Gillibrand. While calling upon Schumer and Gillibrand to act, Glatz also asked them to take up a cause already championed by Western New York Congressman Brian Higgins, who succeeded in adding a rider to a DHS-funding bill that would restore the critical funds to smaller communities like the Buffalo-Niagara region.

"Protecting the homeland is much more complicated than simply drawing a line based on population," Glatz wrote. "Public policy, in this critically important area, should be based on risks and vulnerabilities, and when it comes to risks and vulnerabilities, the Erie/Niagara region will rank high."

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