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President Trump signs bill to study national designation for Finger Lakes region

A lands bill signed by President Donald Trump includes a provision authored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand study whether the Finger Lakes region should be designated as a national heritage area. 

Gillibrand's legislation was added to the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. The federal natural resources bill was named in honor of Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress who died in February. 

The House and Senate passed the lands package in February. 

The bill sponsored by Gillibrand, the Finger Lakes Heritage Area Study Act, requires the National Park Service to study whether the 14-county region should be designated as a national heritage area. 

The feasibility study will cover Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates counties. 

The National Park Service defines a national heritage area as a location "where natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape." 

There are 49 national heritage areas. Four are in New York: Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership; Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor; Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area; and Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. 

"I'm thrilled that we can finally begin the process of designating the Finger Lakes region as a national heritage area," Gillibrand said in a statement. "The Finger Lakes region is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places in our state. A national heritage area designation would encourage more people from all over the country to visit the Finger Lakes region and see for themselves how beautiful the area is." 

Gillibrand explained that the designation could boost the tourism industry, which is already a thriving sector in the regional economy. 

The Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance reported that tourism in the 14-county region generated more than $3 billion in business and supported 58,242 jobs in 2017. 

There are hundreds of popular attractions in the region, including more than 400 historic sites and landmarks, 135 museums and 100 wineries. 

"It comes as no surprise to me or anyone who visits this beautiful part of our state the Finger Lakes region deserves to go through this process and be deemed as a federally recognized national heritage area, particularly as we have heard the overwhelming support from our key stakeholders," said Cynthia Kimble, president of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance. 

There is no timetable for when the National Park Service will commence the study. However, the language in the law requires that a report outlining the findings and any recommendations from the interior security should be submitted to the relevant House and Senate committees "not later than three years after" federal funding is first provided for the study. 

Senate slaps down Trump's border emergency

WASHINGTON — In a stunning rebuke, a dozen defecting Republicans joined Senate Democrats on Thursday to block the national emergency that President Donald Trump declared so he could build his border wall with Mexico. The rejection capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways.

The 59-41 tally, following the Senate's vote a day earlier to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, promised to force Trump into the first vetoes of his presidency. Trump had warned against both actions. Moments after Thursday's vote, the president tweeted a single word of warning: "VETO!"

Two years into the Trump era, a defecting dozen Republicans, pushed along by Democrats, showed a willingness to take that political risk. Twelve GOP senators, including the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended elsewhere.

"The Senate's waking up a little bit to our responsibilities," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said the chamber had become "a little lazy" as an equal branch of government. "I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place."

Many senators said the vote was not necessarily a rejection of the president or the wall, but protections against future presidents -- namely a Democrat who might want to declare an emergency on climate change, gun control or any number of other issues.

"This is constitutional question, it's a question about the balance of power that is core to our constitution," Romney said. "This is not about the president," he added. "The president can certainly express his views as he has and individual senators can express theirs."

Thursday's vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday's on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in halting U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Today's votes cap a week of something the American people haven't seen enough of in the last two years," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, "both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump."

The result is a role-reversal for Republicans who have been reluctant to take on Trump, bracing against his high-profile tweets and public attacks of reprimand. But now they are facing challenges from voters — in some states where senators face stiff elections -- who are expecting more from Congress.

Centrist Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who's among those most vulnerable in 2020, said she's sure the president "will not be happy with my vote. But I'm a United States senator and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution, so let the chips fall where they may."

Trump's grip on the party, though, remains strong and the White House made it clear that Republicans resisting Trump could face political consequences. Ahead of the voting, Trump framed the issue as with-him-or-against-him on border security, a powerful argument with many.

"A vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!" Trump tweeted. "Don't vote with Pelosi!" he said in another, referring to the speaker of the House.

A White House official said Trump won't forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.

"I don't think anybody's sending the president a message," said Jim Risch of Idaho, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He blamed the media for "reaching" to view every action "through the prism of the presidency, and that isn't necessarily the way it works here."

Trump brought on the challenge months ago when he all but dared Congress not to give him the $5.7 billion he was demanding to build the U.S.-Mexico wall or risk a federal government shutdown.

Congress declined and the result was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Trump invoked the national emergency declaration last month, allowing him to try to tap some $3.6 billion for the wall by shuffling money from military projects, and that drew outrage from many lawmakers. Trump had campaigned for president promising Mexico would pay for the wall.

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and lawmakers seethed as they worried about losing money for military projects that had already been approved for bases at home and abroad. The Democratic-led House swiftly voted to terminate Trump's order.

Trump did tweet ahead of the vote that he would be willing to consider legislation to adjust the 1976 law at some later time.

That was enough of a signal for GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, who faces a potentially tough re-election in North Carolina, to flip his vote, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the private thinking and granted anonymity.

NY Assembly OKs bill to block proposed Finger Lakes trash incinerator

The state Legislature is closer to preventing the construction of New York's largest trash incinerator in the Finger Lakes region. 

A bill approved by the state Assembly Thursday would prohibit the state from issuing permits for a trash incinerator if it's located within the Oswego River/Finger Lakes Watershed, if there is at least one landfill within a 50-mile radius of the proposed incinerator and if it would be located within 10 miles of a state Department of Environmental Conservation-designated priority waterbody. 

The main aim of the legislation is to block Circular enerG's plan to build a $365 million, 180-foot-tall incinerator at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, Seneca County. 

With the incinerator, Circular enerG plans to have trash transported to the site and then burned to produce electricity. 

The proposed incinerator's proximity to two of the Finger Lakes — Cayuga and Seneca lakes — has generated much opposition to the project. There is also concern because the incinerator would be located close to the Romulus school district. 

"Protecting the natural resources that drive the Finger Lakes region is critical to sustaining our economic growth," said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican who represents a portion of Seneca County. "Our small business, viticulture and hospitality sectors rely on a high quality of life for residents and visitors alike. This bill protects the health of our natural landscape and the future vitality of the Finger Lakes region." 

One reason lawmakers pushed for passage of the bill is Circulr enerG sought approval through the state's Article X siting process, which is used for power plants. The state Public Service Commission is tasked with reviewing the request. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appoints members of the Public Service Commission, announced last year that he opposes the trash incinerator project. He called it "simply not appropriate." 

Legislators introduced bills that would prevent trash incinerators from using the Article X siting process. But they took a different approach this year to focus on the trash incinerator project in the Finger Lakes region. Instead of a broader bill with statewide ramifications, the legislation passed by the Assembly would prevent incinerators from being constructed in the Finger Lakes Watershed. 

A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by state Sen. Rachel May, a Syracuse Democrat. State Sen. Pam Helming, whose district includes all of Seneca County, is a cosponsor. 

The bill was reported out of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee in February. It has been placed on the calendar for a Senate floor vote. 

"Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this is not a political issue," Helming, R-Canandaigua, said. "We need to continue putting the people first, not politics." 

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Two Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects seek approval by Auburn City Council

AUBURN — Two city-backed Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects await their official support by Auburn's city council before the projects' plans are delivered to the state in the DRI Strategic Investment Plan. 

Once received, the state will review the investment plan, ultimately trimming from $13.5 million to just under $10 million. This means that all of the 18 DRI projects are up for review. Some will have to be cut. 

Next week, council will vote to support creating a State Street event plaza and a shared public services facility. The event plaza, a project requesting $1 million in DRI funds, and the public services facility, which is requesting $1.2 million, are still seeking additional funding to cover their overall costs. 

In a memo sent March 7 to the council by Christina Selvek, Auburn's director of capital projects and grants, said a resolution passed by the council would "reaffirm the city's need and request for NYS aid to complete these projects."

If completed, the State Street event plaza would convert a vacant lot into a public common area to host community activities. The public services facility, which would be placed near the corner of Nelson and Seminary streets, would house Auburn's fire department, an emergency operations center and an emergency management office. 

Also among the 18 DRI project proposals is a plan to create a $600,000 small project grant fund. Selvek said Thursday at a council meeting that she believes the Auburn Local Development Corporation will be the project's lead agency.

Pipeline projects — projects that requested DRI funding but fell short of the trip to Albany — could apply for funding through the small grant fund if they are small enough. 

Selvek said the state's final list of DRI projects could be announced as soon as June and no later than July.