Brindisi: 'I want (the IJC) to know the suffering'
UTICA — Citing a need to “put a human face” on the impacts of recent flooding from Lake Ontario, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi invited Oswego County's officials to a meeting last week with international waterway regulators responsible for overseeing the lake’s outflows.
Sandy Creek Supervisor Nancy Ridgeway and Richland Supervisor Dan Krupke joined Democratic Congressman Brindisi at his Utica office Wednesday morning for an hour-long conversation with the American and Canadian chairs of the International Joint Commission (IJC), the bi-national body overseeing shared waterways between the two countries.
Brindisi, speaking with The Palladium-Times in the hours following their meeting’s adjournment, said he invited the municipal leaders to meet with regulators because it’s important for the IJC to hear about the real-life impacts of lakeshore flooding.
“The purpose of me having the local officials here was to put a human face on the issues that have affected people along the shoreline,” Brindisi, D-Utica, said. “The IJC may be thinking about this in terms of weather patterns or outflow levels, but I want them to know the suffering of residents along the shoreline because of this flooding so that is in the back of their minds when they are planning what to do into the fall and next year.”
The hour-long conference allowed the municipal leaders to meet directly with American and Canadian IJC chairs Jane Corwin and Pierre Beland, accompanied by board engineer Wayne Jenkinson. Attendants spent the hour receiving “updates on current lake levels going into the fall,” followed by discussion of “long-term options regarding Lake Ontario water levels,” according to Brindisi.
Channeling the concerns of lakeside property owners who have seen their property damaged, Brindisi continued to push IJC board members to increase water outflows into the fall season “to better prepare for January 2020 when we will have better opportunity to prevent flooding from happening again,” calling negotiations an “ongoing battle.”
Brindisi said IJC board members in the short term are making plans to apply to the Great Lakes management committee to evaluate Plan 2014, the controversial water management strategy adopted by the IJC in 2016 to address issues of environmental and habitat management.
Lake Ontario water levels reached 247.7 feet at the end of August, according to the latest reporting from the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB). Record outflows of 367,270 cubic feet per second were reduced to 357,000 cubic feet per second, which is still above the “normal safe navigation flow limit” as defined by the maligned Plan 2014.
The outflow strategy for the remainder of 2019 is intended to sustain the accelerated decline of Lake Ontario levels, ILOSLRB officials announced at the end of August.
“The Board recognizes the need to address persistent elevated levels on Lake Ontario and the Board remains committed to providing the highest achievable relief to Lake Ontario in consideration of the impacts of that relief on the St. Lawrence River interests,” said an announcement from the ILOSRB at the end of August.
Plan 2014 has garnered significant pushback among elected officials and their constituents who attribute 2017 and 2019 record-level water levels and flooding to its decrease in lake outflows. IJC board member have maintained that weather patterns would have ensured high water levels no matter the management plan, a belief Brindisi said “does not hold water” when regulators raised it on Wednesday.
Ridgeway said she was “glad to be invited” to Wednesday’s meeting so she could communicate concerns of lakeside residents but was dissatisfied with a lack of concrete planning moving into 2020.
“They stressed this is not anything they’re doing on purpose and they can’t control the water any better than they’re doing,” Ridgeway, reached by phone on Wednesday, told The Palladium-Times. “That’s not really anything Sandy Creek residents want to hear right now.”