CLAYTON — Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul spent much of Monday afternoon walking along Clayton’s shoreline, viewing sandbags still piled against high water and businesses impacted by flooding. She helped a young girl press a keepsake penny and tried some Coyote Moon wine ice cream.
“We have a very important message,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said. “We are open for business.”
Among these businesses was DiPrinzio’s Kitchen, which will open a new bakery, sandwich shop and juice bar Tuesday in addition to its current Italian restaurant.
“This is great, you’re going to be jammed,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, who was traveling with Lt. Gov. Hochul, as they toured the not-yet-open extension.
Shawn DiPrinzio, co-owner of DiPrinzio’s Kitchen, said that their building is new and without a basement — intentionally to avoid water damage — but that not all buildings were as lucky.
“It was exciting to see people are interested in the new business and what’s happening with the water levels,” she said.
Despite the high waters, businesses are carrying on, just as the lieutenant governor said.
“We’ve never been this busy, ever,” Mrs. DiPrinzio said.
Lt. Gov. Hochul is just the latest state official to visit the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as record high water levels have forced businesses and homes to deal with increased risks of inundation and erosion.
The state has rolled out sand bags and temporary AquaDam barriers all along the northern shores of the state, but is also looking to the future.
“We’re talking about building back so this does not happen again,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said.
The major effort from the state will be the up to $300 million for the new Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative to build infrastructure back up and encourage economic development. The first REDI meeting for Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties will be held on Friday.
“That’s when we meet with local leaders and officials that start to give us a sense of what their plan is,” said Mr. Seggos. “They’ve been out there with our consultants for the last few weeks, doing on the ground vetting of damage and where we believe applications will be coming from.”
The applications are due by Labor Day, but work will continue all summer. Mr. Seggos said there are already some discussions about possible projects that local governments may seek state funding for, including elevating the Clayton river walk well above any high water and dealing with erosion on the shore of the Harbor Hotel. He also suggested that local marinas may seek funding for dredging as well.
“Those are the kinds of projects we expect to hear about, and then many individual businesses and homes,” Mr. Seggos said.
Lt. Gov. Hochul and Mr. Seggos were joined by State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown.
“We all know they’ve been here many times, they know the area, they’ve been great advocates,” Sen. Ritchie said.
Mr. Walczyk praised the state’s response not only to immediate high water, but in looking to the future as well.
“Thank you not just for being here today and promoting tourism in the region which is so critical to the vitality of our future, but for your leadership and focus on resiliency for our region,” he said. “Now you’ve got the right vision to make sure we’re prepared to deal with whatever is next.”
Sen. Ritchie and Mr. Walczyk, along with Assemblyman William Barclay, R-Pulaski, launched a petition last month calling for a suspension of Plan 2014. Plan 2014 established new water level regulations for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River after the binational authority overseeing them, the International Joint Commission, adopted it in 2017.
“It’s still up, we still have people signing,” Sen. Ritchie told the Times Monday.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been one of the most vocal opponents of the IJC and Plan 2014, and demanded in early June that the IJC reimburse New York for flooding damage. He said if it were not funded, the state could seek legal action.
“We’re waiting to see what happened with the most recent meeting,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said. “We’re reserving all of our options at this time.”
Frank Bevacqua, public information officer for the IJC, has told the Times that the IJC is immune from legal action in U.S. courts.
“I’ve been in government my entire life, I’ve served at every level there is, I’m not aware of a government being immune from lawsuit,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said.
The IJC has pushed outflows from the Moses-Saunders dam on the St. Lawrence River up to 10,400 cubic meters a second, the maximum sustained flow on record. This outflow is higher than the normal safe limit on outflows for commercial shipping.
When asked about shipping, Lt. Gov. Hochul said the IJC needed to balance the need of shipping in the St. Lawrence Seaway with landowners’ concerns.
“Shipping is obviously very important to New York state and to the Great Lakes as well,” Lt. Gov. Hochul said. “We also have homeowners, communities, and without them we go under.”
Lt. Gov. Hochul declined to comment on whether she thought the IJC should increase outflows, but did say the state was making progress, including working out better information sharing with Ontario about increased snow melt before high water becomes an issue.
On a local level, the county has also taken action. Last week, Jefferson Board of Legislators Chairman Scott A. Gray requested increased patrols along the St. Lawrence River between the Thousand Islands Bridge and Point Vivian to reduce wakes during ongoing high water.
“We’re just going to have our patrol focus on the area.” Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neil told the Times last week. “Everybody’s doing what they can do.”
Mr. Gray confirmed he had heard from the DEC, Coast Guard, Park Police and State Police about the request for more patrols.
“We got an extremely positive response,” he said.