Lakeshore residents determined that destructive high water ‘never happens again’

Photos by Tom Rivers: Sharon Lochman, a member of United Shoreline, said this year's "travesty" with Lake Ontario should never happen again.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 July 2017 at 2:58 pm

State Sen. Robert Ortt addresses about 200 people who attended a rally and informational meeting about Lake Ontario on Friday at the Orleans County Marine Park.

CARLTON – United Shoreline, a citizens group that formed last month to fight the high Lake Ontario water levels, held its third rally on Friday and attracted more than 200 people to the Orleans County Marine Park.

“We need to ensure this travesty never occurs again,” said Sharon Lochman, a Unted Shoreline leader from Kendall. “Our shoreline is rapidly disappearing. We live daily with the heavy considerations of the surges and pounds. We are still one storm away from disaster.”

There are about 220,000 sandbags placed in Orleans County in Kendall, Carlton and Yates to help protect property. The state also placed 850 feet on an Aqua Dam in Kendall. That rubber dam is filled with water and 9 feet wide and 4 feet high.

Despite the fortification efforts, the lake remains high in mid July. For three months it has been eating away at land  and property.

Orleans County and state officials have estimated there are $11 million in shoreline destruction so far. That number will likely grow with more detailed assessments, said Dale Banker, the county’s Emergency Management Office director.

Dale Banker, the Orleans County Emergency Management director, said Friday was day 87 of the county being in a state of emergency due to the high lake levels along the shoreline in Yates, Carlton and Kendall. Banker praised highway superintendents for working extra hard to have sandbags available for residents.

In addition to the private property damage, the Orleans municipalities have totaled more than $200,000 in costs for overtime and other work in fighting the flooding. The governor has submitted the request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid to reimburse municipalities for the cost.

The State Legislature also has approved a $55 million flood relief package. That includes up to $50,000 for property owners where the damaged lake property is their primary residence.

Second homes are eligible for assistance provided the total annual income of the occupants is less than $275,000.

PathStone is administering the relief program for New York in Orleans County. Click here for more information.

Two state legislators – Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Sen. Robert Ortt – faulted Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not opposing the lake level management plan – Plan 2014 – which was approved by the Internal Joint Commission and the Obama Administration. The IJC has members from the U.S. and Canada. They changed the management plan after 50 years.

“What has happened on this lake is unconscionable,” said Assemblyman Hawley. “What has happened to property along this lake is unconscionable. The property should be protected and should be of paramount importance to the governor.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley addresses the group on Friday evening. “This should never have happened and it should never happen again,” he said about the destructive high waters.

The new Plan 2014 was opposed by the Orleans County Legislature, Congressman Chris Collins and many elected officials on the southshore before it was finalized last year.

They feared the new plan would lead to more severe lows and highs with the lake levels. The IJC said record levels of rain are most responsible for the high levels this year.

Ortt said the governor should have heeded the southshore concerns last year before the destruction.

“It would have been real leadership to oppose it last year, but he never said anything,” Ortt told the crowd. “He is against it now, but it’s easy to be against it when people have homes and businesses that might be swept into the lake.”

David Krull, center, is the Carlton highway superintendent. The National Guard and community volunteers have all helped the highway departments get sandbags filled for residents. Krull also praised state inmate crews for working about five weeks to fill sandbags.

Ortt praised residents and businesses for their perseverance, but he said they shouldn’t have that kind of stress in their lives.

He wants President Trump to appoint new American commissioners on the IJC that are sensitive to property owners on the southshore. Ortt said the new plan was overly focused on wildlife.

“The (IJC) is more concerned about the muskrat, the frog and toad than the people who pay taxes in New York State,” Ortt said.

Sue Boss, director for PathStone’s flood relief program in Orleans County, said 30 applications have already been completed. Residents don’t need estimates for work to be done. She said the state has modified the process to help expedite funding for property owners. For more on the program, click here.

United Shoreline will hold its next rally from 7 to 9 p.m. on July 28 in Hilton at the High School Auditorium, 400 East Ave. The group wants to build a strong network along the southshore – “a permanent alliance from Niagara to Oswego,” Lochman said.

The group is pushing for restitution to property owners.

“We need responsible adaptive management of Lake Ontario to ensure the protection of this American shoreline with balanced consideration for its inhabitants and its wildlife,” Lochman said.

The Oak Orchard Lighthouse and the Oak Orchard Harbor are pictured at sunset on Friday.

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