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Controversial proposals to expand the classification of freshwater wetlands should be debated in the State Legislature instead of being imposed "through unilateral administrative action," said Assemblyman Matthew J. Murphy, D-Lockport.

Murphy said the state Department of Environmental Conservation "needs to step back and take a long look at what the future of the wetlands program should be."

His comments were in a letter to state Conservation Commissioner Thomas Jorling as a follow-up to a hearing last week on the wetlands issue. About 800 people crowded into the Niagara County Farm and Home Center to express their opposition to proposed changes in the wetlands classification.

Some developers contend that the proposed changes would place most of Erie and Niagara counties off limits for future residential and commercial construction, seriously stunting the area's growth.

One of the provisions would require developers to provide new wetlands whenever they build anything on an existing wetland, and the definition of existing wetlands would be vastly broadened.

"The proposed regulations are a blatant attempt by the Department (of Environmental Conservation) to usurp broad regulatory authority over land use without adequately assessing the social, economic or agricultural impacts," Murphy wrote.

"You are seeking to incorporate substantive changes in the administration of the program and to institute a far-reaching amendment to existing public policy without proper statutory authority," he told Jorling.

Murphy said the DEC had accepted some recommendations of the Freshwater Wetlands Advisory Committee and had "ignored" other recommendations. "This selective abuse of regulatory powers is totally inappropriate," he wrote.

The DEC is accepting written comments on the wetlands issue until Jan. 18. Then, the department staff will make a recommendation to Jorling.

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