Plan 2014 needs assessment

Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie

Recently in an opinion column for the Watertown Daily Times (June 30), Editorial Page Editor Jerry Moore wrote on the issue of Plan 2014 and how he believes elected officials are deflecting the blame of flooding for political gain.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate Mr. Moore as an editor and writer, but I have to respectfully argue that we may have to agree to disagree on the water level issue. He is correct when he says more than a decade of research went into the implementation of Plan 2014. He is also correct when he argues excess rainfall and snowmelt runoff have contributed to the high water and widespread flooding along the shorelines of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Lastly, he is correct when he recognizes the “balancing act” the International Joint Commission must perform to appease both the United States and Canada.

However, I do not understand how anyone can look at the lack of flooding for most of the past 50 years under Plan 1958D, and then the two major floods since the implementation of Plan 2014 just three years ago, and treat it as a coincidence.

Those of us who have spent our lives in the St. Lawrence Valley, remember how low water level events in past years led public officials — including the late Congressmen David O’B. Martin of Canton and John McHugh of Pierrepont Manor — to raise concerns to the International Joint Commission about the water levels.

In fact, it was the mounting public dissatisfaction with low water level events that eventually led to Congressman McHugh joining his upstate congressional colleagues to provide funding to enable the International Joint Commission to conduct a major environmental study of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario basin that eventually resulted in several alternative plans being offered.

The hydrologists intentionally designed Plan 2014 to take advantage of snowmelt and spring rains to raise Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River above traditional May and June water levels in a deliberate effort to restore wetlands that have been damaged over the past half century.

That is certainly a laudable goal, however, I would argue that it is not unreasonable to suspect that the IJC’s decision to raise water levels in the spring may have contributed to the historic flooding events we are experiencing. The fact remains that communities, businesses and homes were not impacted by flooding such as this for the more than 50 years that the water levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River were guided by Plan 1958D.

I do not think it is pandering to call on the International Joint Commission to put this new plan on hold, and revisit what changes were made. We need to take a hard, honest look at what now can be adjusted to better serve a balance between protecting wetlands and the environment, and the interests of those who live and work along the shorelines.

I also do not believe the thousands of people who are living through this flooding event and watching their businesses or homes fall further under water are misguided. I believe they are suffering. I believe they are heartbroken. I believe they are experiencing something they have never experienced before. And while we have experienced excess rain and snowmelt, one major difference that was never there before is Plan 2014.

I firmly believe we need to continue to encourage the IJC to take a serious look at how Plan 2014 is affecting shorelines and see if modifications can be made that alleviate the suffering caused by flooding that thousands of people living and working along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are struggling with. Recently, I was encouraged by a visit by the International Joint Commission to our region that allowed them to see damage firsthand. I am hopeful members of this body will reflect on what they saw, and think seriously about what can be done moving forward.

We are fortunate to have both of these bodies of water in our region. While we may disagree on how we ended up with record high water levels again this year, I think we can all agree that something needs to be done to provide those along the shorelines with much needed relief.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heulvelton, represents the 48th District.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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