New Lake Ontario plan could submerge Sodus Point

The International Joint Commission’s “Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Plan 2014” will trigger a man-made disaster of catastrophic physical and economic impact for Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne counties, as well as all of the counties on the lake’s south shore. Assemblyman Bob Oaks has joined with Senator Mike Nozzolio and other state representatives, calling on the area’s federal representatives to oppose plans changing the way Lake Ontario water levels are regulated. Oaks explains more below…In letters to United States Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Congressman Dan Maffei, United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, we strongly urged them to oppose any action on the International Joint Commission (IJC)’s Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Plan 2014, until measures are taken to protect the properties of those who have homes and businesses along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We also wrote directly to Lana Pollack, United States Delegation Chairwoman of the International Joint Commission, sharing our opposition to PLAN 2014.Sodus Point in June 1973 after Hurricane Agnes. The water level was 248.4 feet. Plan 2014 has a trigger of 248.13 feet. requiring the IJC to act on behalf of the south shore communities to reduce the water at only about 3 inches below this level.I stressed that implementation of Plan 2014 would break a 50 year contract that existed between the federal government and the counties, communities, residents and business owners along the south shore of Lake Ontario. Increased flooding and damage to the shoreline would ultimately create economic losses that would be a disaster for local communities. Implementing such a plan would be reckless. I am working with Senator Michael Nozzolio and local supervisors and mayors to do all we can to stop this plan from being implemented.Senator Nozzolio indicated “the sustained high levels of water called for in PLAN 2014 will result in drastically increased erosion damage to the shoreline. It will create problems in our local water and sewage treatment plants and damage our roads and highways, thus forcing town and county taxpayers to assume additional tax burden. The policy changes suggested during periods of high water could also submerge the main business and recreation districts in low lying communities like the Village of Sodus Point and other towns and villages along the Lake Ontario shoreline.”The proposed regulations would allow water levels in Lake Ontario to consistently fluctuate outside the parameters that have been in place for more than 50 years, causing the loss of shoreline, erosion damage to property and flooding in lakefront areas of Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego counties and all of the south shore. PLAN 2014 is slightly revised version of the IJC’s BV7 Plan, which was widely criticized by lakefront homeowners, businesses and municipalities.What is the International Joint Commission? The IJC is guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty, agreed to and signed by the United States and Canada in 1909. The commission is comprised of three members from each country. The commission’s two main responsibilities are to: 1) regulate shared water uses of the Great Lakes and other shared water bodies; and 2) investigate transboundary issues and recommend solutions. The IJC has been conducting a study of Lake Ontario and the surrounding area for 14 years. They have stated that Plan 2014 is the “preferred option” for Lake Ontario.In an era when emergency efforts have been required from New York State and the federal government in response to epic storms hitting our state, why would the International Joint Commission recommend a policy that will assure cataclysmic damage along the south shore of Lake Ontario? The impetus for a change in the water level plan has been driven by environmental concerns that are hopeful of improving the health of the lake. They would like to return to the pre-1958 natural high and low water levels that preceded the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Moses Saunders Power Dam at Messena, N.Y. Though a laudable goal, the IJC plan does not assure the environmental goals will be achieved and at the same time, does assure there will be significant damage and destruction to lakefront residences, businesses and adjacent property.The IJC plan estimates there will be an average of $2.2 million in damage per year. However, most people believe that is a gross underestimation which does not include the loss of business or any damage that will be incurred along shorelines of the bays and inlets off Lake Ontario. Recent research by Wayne County shows that the economic impact would not just be to the lake or bayside communities — it would extend to all areas of the county.The total value of the Lake Ontario lakefront properties is more than $405 million or 8.7 percent of the total taxable real property value in Wayne County. When these properties are subject to higher water levels under the new guidelines, the likelihood of damage will be increased exponentially. Wayne County estimates Huron town taxes could increase 29.9 percent, Wolcott 11.97 percent and Sodus 10.1 percent. Subsequent declines in recreational boating and fishing are estimated to result in an a $735,000 loss in sales tax revenue for the county.These lost revenues will mean a shift in higher property taxes to all of Wayne County communities.Although the IJC recommends Plan 2014 as the “preferred option” for Lake Ontario, the IJC does not address mitigation for current property owners or communities along Lake Ontario. Their study alludes to an annual average cost of $2.2 million from damage but most people believe this is a gross understatement of the actual damage that will be caused by the new plan. The study also ignores the damage that will be incurred to the properties on the shorelines of the numerous bays and inlets off Lake Ontario.Some advocates of Plan 2014 suggest the lake environmental concerns trump those of the property owners and they have built at their own risk, much like those who continue to rebuild in the Mississippi flood plains. These lakefront property owners’ situation is much different. Government policy created the current water level parameters allowed, and even encouraged property owners to build and develop within these parameters. For government to break their contract with property owners and communities after more than 50 years — is government at its worst.Rod Lowe of Greece, Monroe County, recently submitted an essay to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle which makes some excellent points on the subject. You can read the essay by clicking Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.Senator Nozzolio and I agree a moratorium on the development of any future proposals by the IJC is needed until a thorough, objective and all inclusive analysis of the potential economic damages to tourism, recreation, business and homes along the south shore of Lake Ontario, can be undertaken. As New York State legislators representing the many communities that are directly affected by the water levels of Lake Ontario, we remain strongly opposed to the IJC’s proposed plan to regulate the water levels along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway. We are urging the IJC and our federal representatives to scrap the current plan and start again using the information and personal testimony from the individuals and business owners who live and work in the areas most affected by this plan.We are urging you to contact your federal representatives and share our concern about the International Joint Commission’s Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Plan 2014, which was recently recommended to the federal government for approval.

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