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Collins, local officials will fight lake plan

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Congressman says IJC plan ‘will absolutely devastate the counties of Wayne, Orleans and Niagara’

Photos by Tom Rivers – Congressman Chris Collins joins local and state officials this morning in speaking against a new plan to regulate Lake Ontario water levels. Collins said the plan would result in more fluctuations in water levels, leading to more erosion when the water is high and inaccessible marinas and docks when the water levels are low.

POINT BREEZE – Congressman Chris Collins joined local and state officials in speaking against a new plan for regulating water levels at Lake Ontario, a plan that could lead to more extremes in lake highs and lows.

Collins said the plan, if approved by the Canadian and U.S. governments, could pose devastating consequences for southshore counties. The binational International Joint Commission approved the new plan last month, the first significant change since 1958.

Prime real estate could be washed away, gobbling up back yards and the tax base. During times of low lake levels, boaters may not be able to get out of harbors and into the lake, harming the fishing and recreational industries that are important economic engines for lakeshore communities.

“This will absolutely devastate the counties of Wayne, Orleans and Niagara,” Collins said during a news conference this morning in front of the Oak Orchard Lighthouse at Point Breeze.

Six southshore counties have 10,025 parcels of land with a total assessed value of $3.7 billion, said Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator. If they suffer a 10 percent loss, those communities would lose $370 million in value.
“At times of extreme water levels, the damage will be catastrophic with millions of dollars of damage occurring in a single day,” Johnson said.

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson speaks during the news conference this morning. She will travel to Washington, D.C. next Thursday to speak with State Department officials about the plan and its potential havoc on the southshore counties. She will be joined by David Godfrey, a Niagara County legislator.

Sportsfishing and shipping industries will suffer when the lake levels are low, Johnson said, noting that shipping companies asked IJC not to implement new plan.

“The role of government should not be to harm the very citizens it is charged to protect,” Johnson said. “This is government at its worst.”

She and David Godfrey, a Niagara County legislator, will travel to Washignton, D.C. next Thursday to meet with officials from the State Department. They also want to meet with senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

One news reporter at today’s news conference said Gillibrand has told the media the U.S. government could help with erosion controls and property owners who suffer losses from the lake levels.

But Collins said the federal government doesn’t have the money to come to rescue if high lake waters destroy the shoreline.

“All too often both senators Schumer and Gillibrand, along with Representative (Louise) Slaughter just say, ‘Get more money, borrow it from China,'” Collins said. “My answer is not let’s borrow more money, dumping the IOUs on the backs of our kids. Let’s solve the real problems of this nation. That’s such an easy cheap shot answer. The federal government is broke.”

A boater approaches the break wall at Oak Orchard Harbor this morning.

Collins also challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to publicly denounce the lake level plan. The governor has the authority to veto the plan, the first major change in regulating the lake levels since 1958.

“Where do you stand, governor?” Collins said before the TV cameras and a crowd of about 50 people. “At the end of the day he can veto it.”

Adam Tabelski, communications director for State Sen. George Maziarz, said the Maziarz is working with the delegation that represents lakeshore communities to pressure Cuomo to reject the plan. Those officials will also appeal to President Obama to not support the plan, Tabelski said.

Several lakeshore property owners told Collins they have already lost big chunks of their back yards to high lake levels in the past two decades.

The federal government and Army Corps of Engineers makes it difficult for property owner to get permits for breakwalls and other protection, they said.

Godfrey, the Niagara County legislator, lives along the lake and he said he loses a foot of his property to the lake each year. The new lake plan will hasten that loss, he said.

The high waters will also swell the streams and rivers that feed into the lake, Godfrey said.

“It’s not just about the lake levels,” he said. “It’s about the feeder streams that reach far inland. The feeder streams will get higher.”

Ed Bellnier, president of the Oak Orchard Neighborhood Association, said the lake levels is a pressing concern for property owners, who fear more erosion.

“Several people are already losing land,” Bellnier said. “We don’t want to lose more property.”