NORA members oppose lake level plan

By on July 21, 2014
File Photo

File Photo

Members of the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance (NORA) planned to meet Thursday, July 10, with officials from the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. regarding their strong opposition to a new plan that will regulate Lake Ontario water levels.

Orleans County Legislator Lynne Johnson and Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey called the International Joint Commission’s Plan 2014, “catastrophic to communities along the Lake Ontario Shore,” during a news conference held at Point Breeze on July 2. The legislators say they believe the IJC’s position shows no concern for the economic fate of our region. They also hoped to meet with senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

“Legislator Godfrey and I plan on meeting face-to-face with our decision makers in Washington, along with Congressman (Chris) Collins, to make our voices heard on behalf of our lakeshore property owners, our businesses and municipalities and all the taxpayers of Niagara and Orleans Counties,” Johnson said during the news conference.

She provided the Suburban News and Hamlin-Clarkson Herald with a list of points she and Godfrey planned to make during their meetings in Washington. Those points include:

•Plan 2014 violates three key guidelines of the IJC which state: “Criteria and Regulation Plans will produce a net benefit to the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River System and its users and will not result in disproportionate loss to any particular interest or geographic area.”

•Unthinkable damages will fall onto Lake Ontario’s southern shore communities while the St. Lawrence River and Montreal and Quebec remain fully protected.

•These six counties (Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego) have approximately 10,025 parcels of land with a total assessed value of $3.7 billion. If just 10 percent of properties are damaged due to Plan 2014, this will equal damages amounting to $370 million.

•In their last and final presentation, the IJC stated that boating interests may have to “deal with low summer water levels” with Plan 2014. This will have a drastic impact on tourism and boating, and subsequently inflict a new tax burden on our residents which will be necessary to compensate for the loss of sales tax dollars.

•It appears the IJC expects shoreline property owners and recreational boaters to bear the costs associated with implementation of their Plan 2014. At times of extreme high lake levels, the damage will be catastrophic with millions of dollars in damage occurring in a single day. The result of lower lake levels will be equally devastating to our $94 million per year sports fishing industry.

•It is also important to consider the shipping industry who will suffer from more  frequent low water conditions. In fact, a number of shipping companies sent letters to the IJC opposing Plan 2014. Their big-business voices obviously fell on deaf ears.

The legislators also planned to discuss feeder stream effects of Plan 2014; Lake Ontario Ordinance Works (radioactive material storage); resulting lake levels of Plan 2014; and proposed “Triggers” which are inadequate and could cost billions in damage.

According to Legislator Godfrey, Plan 2014 would regulate lake levels to benefit the Moses-Saunders Power Generating Plant and “supposedly help aid in the restoration of certain wetlands adjacent to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. This plan was created behind closed doors with environmental interests and no other interests allowed in,” he said.

The current lake-level plan has been in place since 1958 and Godfrey says it has cost taxpayers millions of dollars to implement, and, generally, keeps levels within expected range. He questions the need for the change and who will benefit as well as who will pay the price.

Godfrey lives along the lake and said the new plan will only hasten the loss of a foot of his property to the lake each year.

Orleans County Legislator Ken DeRoller, who lives in Kendall, told the Suburban News and Hamlin-Clarkson Herald “higher highs and lower lows under Plan 2014 to regulate water levels, is very concerning for the south shore property owners of Lake Ontario. The federal government and Army Corps of Engineers make it very difficult for property owners to get permits for break walls and other protection, which must be addressed even under the current plan – let alone Plan 2014.”

DeRoller also notes Plan 2014 will also affect feeder streams and rivers along the lake.

In a news release, the IJC states Plan 2014 will enhance the environment on Lake Ontario and upper St. Lawrence River while retaining the protection and benefits downstream in the lower river equivalent to what they are now.

“Plan 2014 helps protect all users from extreme water levels, provides for the largest wetland restoration project in the region, and prepares for a changing Great Lakes future,” the IJC states.

Proponents of the plan say it will help reverse more than 50 years of environmental damage by restoring tens of thousands of acres of wetlands in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

July 10 Washington meeting update  
Local county legislators say meetings in Washington, D.C. July 10 regarding Lake Ontario water level regulations went, “….very, very well.”

Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance (NORA) co-chairs Lynne Johnson, an Orleans County legislator, and David Godfrey, a Niagara County legislator, were joined by Congressman Chris Collins in meetings with Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and with officials from the State Department.

Godfrey and Johnson spoke with Westside News Inc. by phone as they returned from Washington Friday, July 11.

Both called the meetings “fantastic, excellent, and educational for all parties involved.”

Johnson, Godfrey and Collins voiced concerns about and opposition to Plan 2014 by the International Joint Commission (IJC) which would govern Lake Ontario water levels, saying it would devastate those living along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, the local tourism and sport fishing industry, and shipping.

“We went in with our homework done,” Legislator Johnson said.  “We left educating them as to who the shareholders will be … they heard our voices and hopefully will go back to the drawing board.”

Godfrey and Johnson explained that the U.S. Department of State formatted the IJC and tasked it with finding a lake level medium which would not adversely affect any one party.

Both say Plan 2014 does not live up to that standard, hurting the southern shore of the lake while having no affect on the northern Canadian shoreline.

“The IJC represents government at its worst,” Legislator Johnson said.

“I agree with Congressman Collins,” Godfrey noted, that Plan 2014 would “disproportionally affect the southern shore of the lake. It’s against IJC policy and a violation of its own regulations. We need to end it now.”

The State Department is currently in the early phases of gathering information about Plan 2014, Godfrey explained.

“They will do a lengthy analysis,” he said – which will likely take until the end of the year.

The State Department could decide to throw the plan out, Godfrey explained, but if it approves, it would recommend the plan to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has the final say. If the plan makes it to the governor, Godfrey and Johnson say  they will ask him to veto it.

The two said that in addition to concerns regarding the plan, the IJC is also using out-of-date data in presenting it. For example, Godfrey and Johnson note assessed property values used in the plan are from the year 2000 tax rolls.

Earlier this month, IJC Chair Lana Pollack referenced Rochester’s Fast Ferry in a response to the Town of Wilson’s resolution opposing Plan 2014.

The fast ferry ceased operation in 2006, Johnson said. “They are using aged data, and that drove our point home,” she said.

Godfrey and Johnson will continue to fight Plan 2014 and hope to join Congressman Collins again for a personal meeting with the IJC.

During their news conference July 2, both legislators warned that Plan 2014 would be catastrophic to communities along the lake shore due to erosion of  property when water levels are high, and losses to the $94 million/year sport fishing industry as well as shipping interests when lake levels are low.

They emphasize it’s not just lakeshore property owners who will suffer. Godfrey and Johnson believe Plan 2014 will cost every single taxpayer in shoreline counties as they will end up paying to make up for losses in sales tax.

“If the IJC, and those who support Plan 2014 get their way, every tax payer in the six counties (Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego) will pay for the economic disaster this plan will surely cause,” Godfrey said July 2.

In a news release following the July 10 meetings in Washington, Congressman Collins said in a statement: “It is clear this plan is not in the best interest of  homeowners and other stakeholders along the Lake Ontario shoreline. I am glad we had the opportunity to voice our concerns to the State Department, which is currently undergoing an interagency review of the IJC’s proposal. I remain committed to working with my colleagues in state and local government against its implementation,” Congressman Collins stated.