GREECE, N.Y. — Greece Town Supervisor William Reilich, a Republican Party mainstay for decades in Monroe County, has been named to the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board and says he’ll take a sense of urgency to controversial water regulations.
Reilich was appointed to the 12-person International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) by the International Joint Commission (IJC) — a binational body that oversees shared waterways between the U.S. and Canada — as part of the IJC’s mission to diversify board membership. His presence on the board would bring notice to the “human and social impacts,” IJC officials said, after a summer of record flooding on Lake Ontario.
“In the past there's been representation from a variety of entities from the shipping industry, hydro power and environmentalists,” Reilich told The Palladium-Times in a recent interview. “But there had never been a representative on behalf of the municipalities and the home owners along the thousand miles along the shore of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. That's the role I'm in now.”
It’s important for Reilich to represent the interests of property owners along the Lake Ontario shoreline “because they are the most affected,” he said, noting there are “a thousand homes” with shoreline in Greece.
“We have one individual from the 2017 flooding who is still not in his home,” Reilich said in reference to the then-historic flooding caused by high water levels in 2017. “We have a tremendous amount of destruction. The waves are very powerful and they bend steel, break up concrete and brick walls.
Like Oswego, Greece’s sewage system was affected, Reilich said, adding the town had utility holes “flying off our sanitary sewer” and “shut down roads” that provided access to businesses — another party affected by the devastation brought on by the water overflows.
While the town supervisor underscored a bevy of different factors that account for flooding, he centered on the shipping industry as a major contributor.
“The shipping industry certainly is a sizable factor in that equation because 30 percent of Canada's commerce comes through the Great Lakes,” Reilich said, noting shipping accounts for “only 10 percent” of American commerce. “The industry wants to extend their active time frame through ice formation — which could be until Jan. 1. As a result, you have to allow for higher water levels in the fall so they can continue their shipping of commerce.”
Due to the ice formation, Reilich added it would make it difficult for water regulators to release water from the Moses-Saunders Dam — the structure that regulates Lake Ontario inflows and outflows between Canada and the U.S. — in the spring.
“Now you're taking that high water level and you're adding to it in the spring to the natural snow melt — as well as spring rainfall — and therefore you create the situation that we saw in 2017 and 2019,” he explained. “What you need to do is to shorten that shipping season, whether it be mid November or no later than Dec. 1, and allow a higher flow of water to come out to better prepare you for the spring.”
Reilich’s claim echoes what U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, who represents the northern part of Oswego County, has said in relation to naval commerce and high water levels.
At a town hall held this summer in Pulaski, Brindisi, D-Utica, said Canadian interests seem to lean toward prioritizing commercial decisions.
“It seems to me that Canadians want to push shipping,” he said during the event held at Pulaski High School in late July. “That's their number one priority. We have got to get the communities to agree with us on how to move forward, and I think because (Canadian communities) have also experienced some flooding on their side they are more willing to look at (current water regulation strategies).”
Brindisi and Reilich join the dozens of elected officials and property owners who have long decried Plan 2014 — the current strategy employed by the IJC to regulate Lake Ontario water flow — and called for a revision of the plan or the adoption of old and amended plans altogether.
“It really doesn't matter what one believes, how or why we have increased volume of water in the system,” Reilich said. “What manners is: we have got to have a plan to get rid of it so that we don't bear the brunt of it out on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.”
Plan 2014, according to Reilich, currently shows an imbalance on the criteria taken into account when looking at outflows out of the Moses-Saunders Dam.
“Even in Plan 2014 it said that your decision should not be overly burdened by one of the interests in the plan,” Reilich said. “Quite frankly, it is not a balanced plan when the southern shore is being flooded. That is not striking a balance.”
Reilich said he is “not a supporter of the plan.”
“To make change it requires the support of others besides myself,” he said. “So whether we dramatically modify the plan at this point or work on a different plan that is yet to be determined. But what we have now is not working.”