Oswego Mayor William Barlow Jr. came to the meeting confident he’d get some answers to questions about flooding from Lake Ontario.
Instead, he has more questions now than at the beginning. And he also has less trust in the International Joint Commission.
“I came in here willing to learn and listen,” he said after a roundtable session June 28 between county, state and federal officials and three members of the IJC. “Now, I have less confidence in the IJC.”
IJC U.S. Commissioners Jane Corwin and Lance Yohe and Canadian Commissioner Pierre Beland listened to concerns from about a dozen government officials as Oswego and Wayne counties continue to struggle with ongoing flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
Many — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — blame the IJC’s Plan 2014, a new water level monitoring plan that went into effect in January 2017 to improve and monitor water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It was approved by both the U.S. and Canadian governments as a way to allow a more natural flow of water levels and improve wetland ecosystems.
However, it received criticism from advocates who claimed the higher water levels could increase the risk of flooding on the southern shores of Lake Ontario. The summer of 2017 saw massive flooding along the shore, with homes, camps and businesses lost. The year 2018 was OK, although water levels were still high.
But this year has seen flooding and water levels in Lake Ontario higher and worse than 2017.
The IJC commissioners said at the roundtable they still believe flooding would have occurred no matter what water level plan had been in effect this year. They said the flooding comes from the enormous amount of rain the area has seen and large amounts of water from Lake Erie flowing into Lake Ontario.
“No plan could have done more to keep this flooding from happening,” Corwin said. “We haven’t seen the plan operate under normal conditions.”
“No plan could handle the supply of water we’ve had,” said Beland. “I believe Plan 2014 is a good plan.”
But Corwin and Beland both said IJC commissioners have agreed to look at Plan 2014 to see if it is as good as it can be.
“We are going to do an evaluation of the plan,” Corwin said. “And then we’ll put together a proposal.”
“What could we do? Tweak it here and there and make things better. We’re working for you and not working against you,” Beland said.
Barlow noted his frustration with having to close the city’s marina and how that is affecting not only the city, but all those who use the marina on a daily basis. If the marina remains closed (it still was as of June 28), it could affect the city’s and area’s largest yearly event — Harborfest, which is a four-day festival of music, events, activities and a huge fireworks show set for July 25-28.
And Corwin said reviewing Plan 2014 and making any changes to it — if needed — won’t be done overnight. In fact, she said the evaluation won’t begin in earnest until this year’s flooding situation has diminished.
Others around the table are adamant for the revocation of Plan 2014.
“I continue to believe that Plan 2014 has contributed to the high lake levels and the resulting property damage,” said Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski. “I will continue to advocate for its revocation.”
“I am extremely disheartened to say that after this roundtable, it is doubtful that the IJC is going to make any meaningful changes to Plan 2014 for Lake Ontario in the near future,” said Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons. “This is in spite of the overwhelming evidence that the high water we’ve experienced, that this high water is drowning the lakeshore communities, businesses and others who have heavily invested in these local economies.”
“This is unacceptable,” said Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, who hosted the roundtable with Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus. “Homeowners, business owners, and families in Oswego County are fed up with the inaction and lack of foresight from the IJC.
Barlow said the Oswego Common Council passed a resolution June 24 seeking the revocation of Plan 2014.
Fair Haven Mayor James Basile wasn’t going to stand for the rain and outflows from Lake Erie as excuses for flooding. The lake areas of Wayne County, such as Fair Haven and Sodus Bay, are hurting as badly as Oswego County with flooding and massive shoreline erosion.
Basile said if people look at the rainfall totals for 2017 and 2019, “they are not even in the top 20” in recent history. And when Corwin said outflows from the upper Great Lakes were not considered in Plan 2014, Basile was exasperated.
“We left that out of the formula?” he asked. “Enough is enough.”
Brindisi wanted to know if the IJC could look at the triggers for releasing water out of Lake Ontario. He said perhaps the trigger levels are too high and by the time the lake hits those levels and water is released to the St. Lawrence River, some areas already have flooded.
“That’s one of the issues we will evaluate,” Corwin said.
The International Joint Commission, a two-nation organization that monitors and controls water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board has said in the past that the flooding in 2017 had nothing to do with Plan 2014.