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Support for water level plan rises

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Support is rising for a plan that environmental advocates say will help fragile wetlands along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

The International Joint Commission’s proposal would allow the waters on the St. Lawrence River to rise and fall more than they do right now. The status quo of a fixed water level has damaged wetlands, which provide habitats for land and aquatic animal species, according to scientists and advocacy groups.

“That old plan has caused significant damage to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River,” said Jennifer J. Caddick, the executive director of Save the River, Clayton.

Ms. Caddick spoke Tuesday night before the Jefferson County Legislature, which unanimously recommended the so-called Bv7 proposal. The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian regulator of the two nations’ shared waterways, will hold public hearings on the matter in May to “test the waters on public opinion,” Ms. Caddick said.

On Tuesday, it was clear that officials in Jefferson County were warm to the plan.

“The healthy ecosystem is not just our responsibility,” said Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing. “It’s about tourism dollars, too.”

Ms. Caddick told legislators that nearly 50 percent of adjacent wetlands have been severely damaged as a result of the previous water level plan.

But a more significant rise and fall of water levels could damage properties along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, some warn, presenting potential political resistance to the plan.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said in February he was concerned about the damage it could cause to shoreline properties, so he wasn’t yet ready to take a position. But by Tuesday, Mr. Owens’ support for Bv7 had solidified.

“In the absence of a new concern or error raised in the public comment period, Congressman Owens anticipates supporting the proposal,” spokesman Sean R. Magers said in an email.

Mr. Owens’ potential Republican challenger in November, Matthew A. Doheny, said in a news release Tuesday that he supports Bv7.

“I felt it was important to be a leader and show my support early so that river advocates know they have an ally,” Mr. Doheny said.

In other Jefferson County Legislature business, representatives unanimously approved a resolution calling on the state to restore pension benefits to 12 employees at development agencies in Jefferson County.

Those employees believed they were entitled to pension benefits, and have spent as long as 17 years racking up credits, but earlier this year a state official ruled they weren’t eligible because they were deemed to work at nonprofits, not the state.

The employees disagree with that assessment, and the state Legislature can pass a law that would restore their pension benefits.

The typically low-key Legislature meeting was a sold-out crowd on Tuesday night, due in large part to the employees and their friends’ presence at the meeting. On the basis of legal advice, the employees aren’t speaking publicly about their predicament. Their friends did it for them on Tuesday, arguing the employees deserved to receive the pension benefits they were promised, regardless of a legal dispute or actuarial misstep.

“Sometimes you have to step back from the rhetoric and say, ‘What’s right and what’s wrong?’” said William C. Stowell, a friend of Jay M. Matteson, the county’s agriculture coordinator who could lose pension benefits.

The resolution passed with 13 ayes and one “absolutely” from Legislator Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown.

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