Southshore county leaders speak against lake level plan

Staff Reports Posted 23 December 2014 at 12:00 am

ROCHESTER – Leaders from six southshore Lake Ontario counties joined for a news conference in Rochester on Monday to once again press against a new plan for regulating lake levels.

The county officials fear a new plan by the International Joint Commission could lead to more lake level fluctuations, causing erosion and flooding for southshore homeowners.

“The only special interest group I hold myself accountable to is the local taxpayers,” said Maggie Brooks, Monroe County executive. “Homeowners and businesses along the south shore of Lake Ontario have invested a great deal into protecting their properties against 50 years of fairly steady lake levels. Under Plan 2014, higher levels could leave our lakeshore susceptible to significant flooding and increased erosion, resulting in millions of dollars in damages to both private properties and public infrastructure, with no recourse for compensation.”

The leaders from the six counties joined for the news conference after recent ads by the “Support Plan 2014” Coalition and Nature Conservancy. They want the United States and Canadian governments to both endorse the plan.

Critics from the southshore counties say the “Support Plan 2014” Coalition has claimed that shoreline property owners face no significant additional threat from the proposed new water management plan. That claim is directly refuted by the IJC which estimates Plan 2014 will increase the annual cost of shoreline protection by 13 percent and increase annual damages by $2.2 million. That number is considered low by many experts because it does not account for losses by local businesses and damages to bays and inlets, according to the counties.

“As the voice of residents on the southern shore of Lake Ontario and representatives elected by the taxpayers of our respected counties, our joint-opposition to Plan 2014 should not take a back seat to the opinions of well financed special interest groups,” said Jim Hoffman, chairman of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors. “Whatever environmental benefits may accrue in some parts of the lakeshore, Wayne County property owners on Lake Ontario and its embayments will suffer increased damages due to more frequent flooding and higher lake levels.”

The Village of Sodus Point stands among the hardest to be hit if Plan 2014 is implemented. The low-lying village has been endangered by past high water levels and Plan 2014’s call for more frequent and sometimes higher water levels only furthers the risk for damages.

“Plan 2014 offers three very devastating affects to the residents of Sodus Point. Erosion, flooding of homes and businesses, infiltration of surface water into wastewater lift stations forcing the shutdown of the water system, making Sodus Point 75 percent uninhabitable and devaluation of property values,” said Village of Sodus Point Mayor Chris Tertinek.

The Niagara Orleans Regional Alliance (NORA) is a collaborative partnership between Niagara and Orleans counties. The organization has been a staunch opponent of Plan 2014 and has brought attention to the devastating economic impact the plan would have on the surrounding area.

“The devastation caused by Plan 2014 will not stop at the shoreline; every taxpayer in our counties will pay the price,” said Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey, who also serves as Co-Chair of NORA. “As the proposed higher lake levels erode our shorelines, property values will depreciate resulting in high property taxes for everyone. Conversely, as the proposed lower lake levels drain our harbors, the loss of sales tax revenues from sport fishing and recreational boating will have to be made up by another property tax increase. Plan 2014 is an economic disaster that has to be sunk once and for all.”

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson, co-chair of NORA, also spoke at the news conference.

“The role of government should not be to harm the very citizens it is charged to protect,” she said. “Here we have two federal agencies, the US Army Corps of Engineers who recently spent millions of dollars to dredge our local harbors, and on the other hand we have a federally commissioned agency, the International Joint Commission, supporting Plan 2014 that will result in damages exceeding $3.5 million to our counties shorelines. This is government at its worst.”

Oswego and Cayuga Counties represent the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario and have a combined 57 miles of at-risk shoreline. Both counties have concerns about how the fluctuations in lake levels would affect the tourism, fishing, and boating industries.

“The region must stand together on any changes to water levels, considering the impact on property and commerce far into the future,” said Cayuga County Legislature Chairman Michael Chapman.

Plan 2014 was announced as the preferred option for regulating water levels and flows by the IJC in June 2014 despite heavy opposition from the communities along the southern and eastern shores of Lake Ontario. Before the plan can be implemented, it must be approved by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. All six counties have passed resolutions in opposition to Plan 2014 and leaders from each of the respected counties have written Secretary Kerry to voice their concerns.