Group calls for delay in 2020 shipping season

Save the River is calling for a delay in the 2020 shipping season so more water could be released from Lake Ontario. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer has asked St. Lawrence Seaway officials to take steps to deter the threat of a third year of flooding.

Sen. Schumer sent a letter to Seaway officials on Friday, calling on them to take immediate steps to help protect communities from a third year of floods across the Lake Ontario shoreline.

“After experiencing record flooding in 2017 and again last year, Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River communities are once again being threatened with sky-high water levels — so it is critical for the St. Lawrence Seaway to reinstate requirements that shippers use all safety precautions so that dam outflows can be increased before it’s too late,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement.

“Specifically, I’m urging the Seaway to again implement all of these measures and support increasing the outflows of the Moses-Saunders Dam. With the risk of a repeat of these immense damages looming, we must take every measure possible to protect communities along Lake Ontario,” he said.

In his letter to Craig Middlebrook, deputy administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, and Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, Sen. Schumer urged them to agree to an increase in outflows through the Moses-Saunders Dam.

He said that in the midst of last summer’s flooding season, when the Moses-Saunders Dam outflows were increased to record high outflows above the normal safe navigation flow limit, the St. Lawrence Seaway accommodated the increased outflows by employing additional operational and navigation safety precautions. Those included speed controls in sections on the Seaway, a prohibition on meeting or passing vessels in certain areas, positioning a tug boat at some locks to assist vessels if needed, and reduced speeds to minimize vessel wakes.

He said not all of those precautions are still being employed, and he wants the Seaway to put them in place so the increased outflows can be safely carried out.

“This past summer during the period when outflows were increased to record high levels (L+200), the St. Lawrence Seaway accommodated increased outflows by instituting enhanced safety protocols to ensure safe shipping while enabling increased dam outflows to lower Lake Ontario’s water level. However, these same enhanced protocols are not all currently being employed, indicating outflows can be increased now above L+200 if these protocols are reinstated,” he said.

“Therefore, I urge the St. Lawrence Seaway to again implement these measures and support increased outflows through the Moses-Saunders Dam,” Sen. Schumer said.

He said Lake Ontario’s water level is more than 19 inches higher than average for this time of year, and long-term projections by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers indicate both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie water levels are estimated to remain above historical norms for the remainder of the year. That, he said, would threaten to exceed the record high recorded December water level set in 1945 and would increase the likelihood of a repeat of the 2017 and 2019 flooding.

“It’s incumbent on St. Lawrence Seaway as a member of the International Joint Commission (IJC) St. Lawrence-Lake Ontario River Control Board to increase outflows to the maximum now in order to draw down water ahead of spring runoff,” he said.

The New York Power Authority announced last week that the gates at the Long Sault Dam are currently expected to be open throughout the winter months to assist in maintaining planned river flow to accommodate maintenance at the Moses-Saunders Power Dam. However, NYPA officials said the spilling will not increase the overall planned river flow. They said outflows from Lake Ontario are established on a weekly basis by the International Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River Board, and actual outflows will depend on conditions in the St. Lawrence River.

Separately, the Chamber of Marine Commerce in Ottawa said in a press release that shipping could potentially be impacted by increased outflows. The Marine Chamber of Commerce is a binational, private sector, not-for-profit association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholders.

Officials said closing the St. Lawrence Seaway in December to accommodate higher outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam would cost the Canadian and U.S. economies $193 million per week. They said the closure would impact farmers’ grain exports and manufacturing plant operations and would disrupt deliveries of fuel, construction materials and road salt for winter safety to cities throughout the region.

“The Chamber of Marine Commerce is issuing today’s comments to provide a wider context of the economic repercussions related to calls to increase the water outflow at Moses-Saunders dam to levels that would be unsafe for navigation and halt shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway during December,” the press release said.

“We have the greatest sympathy for Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River residents and business owners that have been impacted by flooding due to unprecedented weather conditions. This situation has also cost our supply chain millions of dollars,” Chamber of Marine Commerce President Bruce Burrows said in a statement. “Halting St. Lawrence Seaway shipping altogether would cause major harm to our economy and achieve no noticeable benefit for flooding victims. We call on the IJC and government leaders to collaborate with affected stakeholders to find solutions that look at shoreline resiliency, flood management zones and what can be done during the winter when the St. Lawrence Seaway is closed to navigation.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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