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Schumer, Gillibrand seek resiliency study by Army Corps for Lake Ontario shoreline

Posted 23 January 2020 at 9:14 am

Press Release, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand

Photo by Tom Rivers: Members of the National Guard are pictured in Kendall at the highway garage, filling sandbags on May 12, 2017 that would be placed along the shoreline in Kendall.

Following vicious flooding of Lake Ontario during two of the last three years, with private and public property and infrastructure being destroyed, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to include the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study in its Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan.

The study, Schumer and Gillibrand said, would seek to both identify vulnerable areas on the Great Lakes’ shorelines and recommend new shoreline protections to fund to increase resilience to various types of damage. The senators said that in the wake of this devastating flooding of Lake Ontario’s shoreline and with its water level substantially higher than average for this time of the year, the need to plan now how to strengthen Great Lakes infrastructure for the future is clear.

Therefore, Schumer and Gillibrand called on USACE to prioritize the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study in its upcoming work plan, a major step toward unlocking essential funding for the study and ensuring that the infrastructure on Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the St. Lawrence Seaway is fully capable of weathering the storms and floods of the future.

“After Lake Ontario experienced record flooding in 2017 and again in 2019, with the risk of a severe repeat this year, it is obvious that we need all hands on deck and an all-of-the-above approach, meaning a coordinated response from federal, state and local government, to address the costly vulnerabilities on our Great Lakes. The obvious place to start is by advancing and initiating the Army Corps’ Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study,” said Senator Schumer. “The Army Corps has a proven track record of executing blueprints that boost shoreline resiliency and it’s about time they do so on Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. That’s why I’m urging the Army Corps to prioritize this vital study on its Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan and am vowing to keep fighting tooth and nail until it is fully funded and underway.”

“Lake Ontario has suffered from repeated severe flooding over the past few years. Homes, businesses, and infrastructure along its shoreline have been severely damaged and continue to face vulnerabilities,” said Senator Gillibrand. “With the continued threat of extreme weather and high water levels, these shoreline communities are still in danger. That’s why I was proud to fight for the authorization of the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which would help the Army Corps protect communities along all the Great Lakes from future flooding. Now, I’m calling on the Army Corps to fund this study and actually implement it. I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that shoreline communities along Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the St. Lawrence Seaway get the help and resources they need.”

Schumer and Gillibrand fought to authorize the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study in the Water Resources Development Act of 2018.  As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Gillibrand played a key role in advancing this legislation.  The study would cost a total of $12 million over four years, 75% of which would be funded by the federal government, and the other 25% by the eight Great Lakes state governments.

The Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study would be run by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and is designed to fortify infrastructure and protect both the built and natural areas along the Great Lakes coastline, ensuring that shoreline communities like those along Lake Ontario are better equipped to withstand, recover from and adapt to disruptive events like flooding or storms. The senators explained that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the USACE created a similar blueprint that successfully paved the way to then fund new infrastructure projects that are boosting the resiliency of New York’s Atlantic shoreline, showing that the agency is fully capable of doing the same for the Great Lakes through the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study.

Specifically, the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study was developed to safeguard against threats like flooding and erosion and is vital to protecting the Great Lakes’ 5,200-mile coastline, as well as the 4.2 million people who live within two miles of the coastline.

The Study will be an infrastructure investment strategy for the Lake Ontario and Great Lakes coast that will result in a blueprint that identifies vulnerable areas and recommends measures that can be funded to increase resiliency and to protect the coastline.

The study will evaluate and recommend an array of structural, natural, and regulatory measures to protect the coastline such as building breakwaters, adding coastal armoring or protective stone groins, developing new resilient design standards, restoring protective barrier islands, conducting beach sand replenishment, and more.

Without this plan, the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Division has warned the Great Lakes will face an increased risk of coastal damage in the future and will suffer from management strategies that continue to address this problem through a piecemeal approach that is both inefficient and limited in effectiveness.

Protecting this coastline is critical to a robust economy and the tourism industry in the Great Lakes, which includes 60 commercial harbors, a maritime economy valued at $17.3 billion and generating 293,000 jobs, a $14 billion Great Lakes recreation and tourism economy, and a diverse ecosystem of features such as wetlands, bluffs, dunes, beaches, and species that are either threatened or endangered.

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