Local officials say they are prepared for flooding if lake levels keep rising

Photos by Tom Rivers: Officials from Orleans and Niagara counties held a news conference at Golden Hill State park in Barker on Monday, with Lake Ontario as the backdrop. Dale Banker, center, is director of the Orleans County Emergency Management Office. Lynne Johnson, Orleans County Legislature chairwoman, is next to Banker at right. Jon Schultz, director of the Niagara County Emergency Management Office, is left of Banker and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey is back left.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 April 2019 at 10:22 am

BARKER – If Lake Ontario turns into a flooding menace this year, local officials are ready to fight back.

The highway departments in Kendall, Carlton and Yates all have sandbags ready. Local officials also learned other tactics from the flooding two years ago. The sandbags are more effective, for example, when they are placed inside large grain bags, said Dale Banker, Orleans County’s director of emergency management. He has 300 of the grain bags at his office, and the highway departments all have them, he said during a news conference on Monday in barker at Golden Hill State Park.

Aqua Dams also were effective with the flooding two years ago. Two of those temporary dams were deployed in Kendall by the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. Those dams have flexible inner tubes that are filled with lake water.

“We want to get out ahead of the rising lake waters,” Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson told reporters during a news conference by Lake Ontario. “We are prepared. We’re not going to be blindsided this time.”

The lake is about nine inches above it’s normal depth for this time of year. It is projected to rise about another foot in the next month.

The lake is currently at 246.86 feet. That is below the peak of 249.1 feet in 2017, when flooding chewed away yards and destroyed breakwalls along the southshore.

Tony Cammarata, Kendall town supervisor, said many residents have used state assistance to put in new breakwalls since the flooding two years ago. He said the large grain bags and the Aqua Dams “were big assets” in protecting property.

The state approved $45 million for breakwall construction and assistance with property damage, capping the grants at $50,000 per property owner. About 500 property owners in Orleans County were approved for funding, which the program managed by PathStone.

Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson speaks to reporters about her concern with the rising Lake Ontario water levels. She said local municipalities are stocked with sandbags in case there is flooding. James Voutour, Niagara County sheriff, is at right.

Jon Schultz, director of the Niagara County Emergency Management Office, said the shoreline is more “hardened” after the breakwall improvements.

He still worries as the lake levels are on the rise. The big wildcard, he said, is the wind.

The lake turned destructive in 2017 when the wind unleashed waves, 4 to 6 feet high, that crashed into the shoreline, Schultz said.

“No one can control the wind,” he said during the news conference.

The outflows in the lake have been cut back recently to reduce the flooding impact to Ottawa. Schultz and Banker said they will be monitoring the lake levels closely the next month, hoping there aren’t big rains.

If the lake goes up another 6 to 8 inches, Schultz said Niagara municipalities would likely start to put sandbags in vulnerable areas by the shoreline.

In 2017, there was record-setting rain in the spring. Local officials also say Plan 2014 for regulating lake levels also was a factor in the flooding.

Banker said the local highway departments, Army Corps of Engineers, and state agencies all are ready to deploy assets if needed to fight flooding. Monday’s news conference at the State Park in Barker was in the bright sunshine, with temperatures in the mid-60s.

“Hopefully there will be many more calm, sunny days and in a month it will be history,” he said about the flooding concerns.

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