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MCA says Monday meeting with CBSA will focus on border crossing issues

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MASSENA - The new low-level bridge connecting Cornwall Island to the city of Cornwall is being opened to traffic this morning, and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) is standing behind its strong opposition of the opening until various issues are addressed.

The MCA said the group “does not support the bridge opening at this time” and still has concerns and issues yet to be addressed by the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited (FBCL), the Seaway International Bridge Corporation (SIBC), and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

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 historic high-level bridge, a 1962 structure, has reached the end of its useful life, according to a release this week from the Federal Bridge Corporation Limited.

Canadian officials said the first two phases are now completed - the newlow-level North Channel Bridge crossing, toll plaza and temporary interim CBSA plaza.

FBCL President and Chief Executive Officer Mrs. Micheline Dubé, in the release, said, “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.”

Plans are for a smooth transition on opening day, with a simultaneous closure of the high-level structure. Security measures will be implemented in order to prevent any possible access to the high-level bridge until demolition begins, federal officials noted in the release..

Plans call for the high-level bridge to be dismantled and Brookdale Avenue in the City of Cornwall will be realigned. The project completion is planned for late 2016.

MCA Communications Unit Program Manager Shannon Scully Burns said that regular meetings have been taking place with CBSA officials in efforts to reach an agreement on an alternative reporting mechanism. The council feels that a mechanism is a necessity for the new low-level bridge to succeed.

Under the current plan, Cornwall Island residents returning home from the United States - even if they are traveling to the American side of the transborder reservation, are required to drive past their hometown, cross the new span and report to Canadian Customs and then drive back across the bridge to their homes.

Canadian Customs had previously been located on Cornwall Island, which is in the province of Ontario, but that station was shut down during a dispute with Mohawks over Canadian border agents being armed.

“There are several different options that we’ve explored. 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,” Ms. Burns said.

Other problems that the MCA wants addressed include additional lanes at the new toll booth plaza and the need for 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.”

They feel that the emergency response plan needs to be developed with the Emergency Measures Office.

“It definitely needs to be developed. Also, there are problems with jurisdiction. FBCA and SIBC have not responded to questions regarding this matter,” Ms. Burns said. “There is a meeting scheduled for the 27th with CBSA and other federal officials. That will focus on the actual border crossing issues and the alternative reporting system.”

With only two lanes at the toll booth plaza, Ms. Burns said that it is only a matter of time before back-up of traffic becomes a serious problem.

“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.

Because of the unresolved issues, the MCA will not be participating or attending any formal ceremonies to open the bridge, she said.

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