SANDY CREEK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday announced the planned dredging of 20 sites on Lake Ontario, part of an ongoing effort to protect shorelines from rising waters.
Standing on a frozen beach at Sandy Pond Inlet and flanked by local and state officials in front of a backhoe loading sand from the bottom of the lake into a dump trunk, Cuomo said the dredging is part of a $300 million effort known as the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI) to restore the resiliency of the shoreline and prevent further damage to areas near the water.
One local shoreline stabilization project has already been completed at Mexico Point State Park, where crews placed 3,200 tons of stone along 435 linear feet of shoreline for stabilization.
Two projects in Oswego County will begin dredging — the process of excavating material from the bottom of a water body — in April 2021 at Sandy Point Inlet and a site at Port Ontario, according to the governor’s office.
Many Lake Ontario properties have already suffered damage as a result of severe flooding in 2017 and 2019. With lake levels even higher now than this time last year, further flooding is expected.
“The bottom line is, this is what they call a new normal,” Cuomo said. “It’s happened for several years, we don’t think it’s going to stop. So let’s adjust to the new reality and let’s do it by taking action, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Cuomo’s top environmental deputy, Basil Seggos, said the 20 announced dredging areas are a “critical component of Gov. Cuomo’s comprehensive plan to protect Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shoreline communities from high water.”
“The Governor’s REDI experts will continue to identify strategic and nature-based flood mitigation projects and utilize state-of-the-art technology to advance projects that protect harbor navigation channels and the economic activity they support while safeguarding our environment and communities for generations to come,” said Seggos, who serves as Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner.
Cuomo also described an “ongoing disagreement” with the International Joint Commission (IJC), an organization formed between the governments of the United States and Canada to oversee the shared waters of the two nations.
The IJC has been the target of ire from politicians and shoreline residents who feel the organization must do more to prevent further flooding. The IJC maintains it’s a changing climate, and not their intervention, that is causing the floods.
According to Cuomo, the IJC told him water levels are the result of an “inflow problem,” an excuse the Empire State’s executive doesn’t buy.
Tom Hart, who has worked for the state in coastal management since 1985, said the project at Sandy Pond is looking to restore 4,000 feet of shoreline. The inlet where the dredging will take place at is a narrow strip of land that separates North Sandy Pond from Lake Ontario, and just beyond the pond are residential neighborhoods that Hart said were under water at one point recently. Restoring the shoreline will provide a line of defense for those houses against floodwaters, he said, something for which property owners have been searching for years.
“What you’re looking at here protects the entire bay,” Hart said. “In the 1970s when this happened with high water, the inlet became a thousand feet wide. All these properties here, if you look back at Greene Point, become exposed to the lake directly. They’re designed to be on a pond. That’s what we’re protecting.”
Brian Wallace of BDS Construction, a firm assisting with the dredging projects in the area, said if dredging does not take place, it will expose properties to hazardous waves from Lake Ontario as opposed to the calmer waters of the pond. Wallace pointed to specific areas where his organization had placed sand.
“Without all the sand, it’s going to put your lake right up to those places over there,” Wallace said, gesturing toward properties around the pond. “It’s virtually going to wipe them out. The highest wave recorded on Lake Ontario is almost 29 feet. Can you imagine a 29-foot wave heading over there? All those campers would get thrown around like rag dolls.”