Niagara-Orleans meet IJC to press against lake plan

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 September 2014 at 12:00 am

Environmental groups push to have plan accepted

Photo by Tom Rivers – This sign on the shore of the Golden Hill State Park in Barker warns of an eroding shoreline.

Officials from Orleans and Niagara counties continue to fight a new plan for regulating Lake Ontario water levels, fearing the lake would see more extremes in water levels, leading to an eroded shoreline during high water and parched marinas during low levels.

The two local counties were represented in a meeting on Thursday in Buffalo with board members from the International Joint Commission. That group includes representatives from the United States and Canada.

It has endorsed a plan that calls for the biggest changes in regulating water levels in the lake and St. Lawrence Seaway since 1958. Orleans and Niagara officials fear hundreds of millions of dollars of valuable property will be lost from erosion, which will force taxes to rise on every resident in the southshore counties.

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson and Niagara County Legislator Dave Godfrey met with several IJC officials to again state their strong opposition to the proposal, Plan 2014. Johnson said the meeting was attended by Gordon Walker, acting chairman, Canadian Section; Dereth Glance, commissioner of U.S. Section; and Frank Bevacqua, public information officer, U.S. Section.

U.S. Rep. Chris Collins helped to set up the meeting, Johnson said. Collins issued this statement after the meeting.

“Plan 2014 is unacceptable,” he said. “It has been plagued by public backlash and flawed economic analyses from the onset. Most disturbing is that Plan 2014 shows no concern for the negative economic impact its implementation will have on the thousands of individuals, families, and businesses along the south shore of Lake

Johnson and Godfrey went to Washington, D.C. in early August to meet with federal officials, including the State Department, to rail against the plan.

The six southshore counties from Niagara to Oswego have 10,025 parcels of lakefront land with a total assessed value of $3.7 billion. If they suffer a 10 percent loss, those communities would lose $370 million in value, with the difference to be made up by other taxpayers in the counties, Johnson said

Besides the potential loss of valuable shoreline, the plan could cripple fishing and recreational industries on the south shore of the lake, Johnson and Godfrey said.

Plan 2014 has a lot of support from environmental organizations. Representatives from 41 organizations signed a letter, urging U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and elected officials and representatives of federal agencies in the two countries to back the new Lake Ontario plan.

Supporters say Plan 2014 will protect against extreme water levels, restore tens of thousands of acres of wetlands, boost hydropower production, and enhance outdoor recreation and increase the resilience of 712 miles of Lake Ontario shoreline in the U.S. and Canada.

“This is a once-in-a-generation chance to restore a Great Lake, invest in New York’s recreation-based economy and prepare for climate change,” said Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter executive director. “We hope everyone will explore the facts about this plan, and express their support for its adoption.”

Signatories for the letter included the New York League of Conservation Voters, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Save The River, New York State Conservation Council, Clarkson University, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund Canada, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Nature Quebec, the National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy and several others.

Plan 2014 follows 13 years of exhaustive study and bi-national consultation with stakeholders and the general public, supported by state-of-the-art simulation of the impacts of alternative regulation plans, according to The Nature Conservancy.

The environmental groups say the plan is an “economic winner” for the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River region by providing increased hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Collins spoke against the IJC plan during a news conference at Oak Orchard Harbor on July 2. He has urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject the plan due to its potential harm to the southshore. Collins and the local officials say they will continue to voice their concerns.

“Today’s meeting offered my colleagues and me another opportunity to reiterate our strong and continued opposition to this plan, and reaffirm our steadfast commitment to preventing its implementation,” Collins said on Thursday.