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Heritage commission for Gorge advanced

The long-awaited plan to beautify the Niagara Gorge on the American side took a major step forward Wednesday when a Senate committee approved legislation creating the Niagara Heritage Commission.

The plan sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Afterward, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., voiced satisfaction that the opposition by the Bush administration "apparently fell on deaf ears" in the Senate.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, wanted a similar bill put on the noncontroversial calendar in the House, but Republican leaders denied her the unanimous consent needed for that.

Slaughter aides said the House version will be bundled with other legislation, given a hearing in the Rules Committee, which she heads, and then offered for a floor vote.

"I anticipate that the bill will be passed by the House soon," said Slaughter, a member of the Democratic House leadership.

Two months ago, the Bush administration announced it wanted a hold put on all proposed heritage areas until a process was created to define what they were supposed to do. In the House, Republicans complained the Niagara Falls plan was a cover to assist casino gambling there.

But plans for a coordinated effort to beautify the U.S. side of the Falls antedate casino gambling. They date back to the early 1990s when then Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., urged Canadians to join with this country to enhance the tourist center's natural attraction.

More recently, Slaughter and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., picked up the torch. Schumer's bill potentially includes points of interest in Erie County as part of the renewal scheme.

"The attractions and resources exist for the Niagara River corridor to become a world class destination," Schumer said. "But the attractions it offers lack a comprehensive, unifying thread that ties the elements together in a meaningful way for the visitor."

The bill authorizes $10 million to support consultant contracts and commission jobs to do a three-year study on how all levels of government can work together to create an environment mirroring the parkways and development on the Canadian side. The $10 million must be matched by nonfederal money.

Schumer legislation in 2001 provided $25,000 for a study into the feasibility of a heritage area. The review, completed two years ago, supported a heritage area.

The bill creates a 17-member Niagara Falls National Heritage Commission within the Interior Department, with the secretary appointing all members after consultation with the governor and regional entities, including the Seneca and Tuscarora Indian nations.


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