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A state commission assigned to produce an economic development and tourism plan for the five westernmost counties along the Erie Canal ironed out the last details Friday.

Meeting in the Brewhaus here, the Western Erie Canal Heritage Corridor Planning Commission deleted one paragraph from its 121-page report because the Monroe County Legislature refused to approve the plan without the change.

The legislatures of Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties already had ratified the document, completed in May by the 18-member commission after 3 1/2 years of work. It cost the state about $500,000.

Michael Heftka, commission chairman and executive director of the Wyoming County Industrial Development Agency, said he has been promised the State Legislature will approve funding in January to begin carrying out the plan.

The report recommends that the state spend $174,000 to get the plan moving, but Heftka, a Grand Island resident, said the actual appropriation hasn't been determined.

The report calls for the state to establish a public benefit corporation, the Western Erie Canal Partnership, to oversee implementation of the plan. Also, a not-for-profit entity to be called the Western Erie Canal Alliance would be put in charge of further fund raising.

The report says the 46 communities along the canal in the five-county area voluntarily should adopt a set of planning principles dovetailing with the commission's development goals.

Every project, in some fashion, should strengthen the community's connection with the canal, complementing rather than duplicating what other canal towns are doing.

Monroe lawmakers objected to a paragraph that called on counties to adopt and use the plan, and "give priority, wherever feasible, to towns, villages and cities that have adopted the principles." They thought that sounded like a county mandate on municipalities, so the commission dropped the provision.

Heftka said Bernadette Castro, state commissioner of parks, recreation and historic preservation, had told him she wouldn't accept the plan without the approval of all five counties.

The document also envisions a chain of interpretive centers along the canal, each emphasizing a different aspect of the waterway's history.


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