Property, business owners on shoreline say flooding needs long-term solution
OSWEGO COUNTY — Oswego County residents are feeling the impacts of high Lake Ontario water levels following a county-wide declaration of emergency and warnings issued by state officials and days of stormy weather.
Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, on Tuesday issued a state of emergency declaration for the county after assessing flooding conditions that could affect communities along the lake shoreline.
The declaration is meant to allow local agencies to take action and protect life and property and public infrastructure by providing the emergency assistance deemed necessary.
Across the county, property and business owners are starting to witness damage to their property and ramping up their preparation process.
Shawn Caroccio, a guidance counselor at Oswego High School who owns a lake house in Scriba, says his property is “surrounded by water.”
”The water level being so high is causing the waves to come over the seawalls,” Caroccio said. “We have lost shoreline seawalls and experienced heavy property damage.”
While aid in the form of sandbags is immediately available, Caroccio said the situation at his home near Miele Beach has reached a critical point.
“At this time we are using sandbags, but the levels are beyond the use of sandbags,” he said.
A long-term plan would benefit municipalities and property owners from preventing a high lake levels from becoming a cyclical occurrence, according to Caroccio, whose property also suffered from flood damage in 2017.
“I have no idea what the plan is going forward,” he said. “We just don’t want the to harm be like 2017, when the water recedes and everyone forgets about it. We need help to plan for further issues.”
Further, Caroccio reflected on the impact flood damage could have at the county level.
“It is not just us in Scriba who are suffering, it is at the local level,” he said. “We see it in Fair Haven, the city of Oswego and Sodus. All these places count on boater traffic to survive for seasonal income. It is just something that needs to be addressed, not ‘sandbagged.’”
A “no wake zone order” is also in place for boats near the lakeshore and its tributaries in Oswego Harbor, the Port of Oswego, Port Ontario, Mexico Point and North and South Sandy Ponds. Boats within 1,000 feet of the shoreline are to operate at idle speed due to high water levels.
The latest reading issued Wednesday by the International Joint Commission (IJC) — a bi-national organization responsible for overseeing shared waterways between the U.S. and Canada — amounts to 248.39 feet, which still ranks below the 248.85 feet seen during the historic 2017 flooding.
That year, the city of Oswego suffered $15 million worth of damage due to flooding, according to local officials. The water damage reached nearby infrastructure and shoreline property including Wright’s Landing Marina and Breitbeck Park.
Some shoreline businesses, despite owning property on high bluffs, are still wary of a potential repeat of water damage caused to their structures in 2017.
Pulaski inn and restaurant Rainbow Shores is located on higher terrain, but owner Renee Alfred said rising lake levels will affect some of their shoreline property.
Alfred said their business earnings fell 35 percent following stormy weather in 2017.
“We were able to bounce back in the 2018 season, but this current weather could cause significant damage again,” she said.
Alfred added that while she tried safeguarding structures with rip-rap — rubble placed strategically to prevent water from seeping through — she doesn’t believe the fortifications will mitigate any damage if wave activity rises and stormy weather worsens.
“If we got to a point where we are suffering beyond our control, then we have to reach out for state aid,” she said, adding that state aid can be tough waters to wade through and that she is not aware of what type of aid is available for her business.
Erosion of natural barriers and a potential storm-like forecast is also concerning for state park managers.
Selkirk Shores — a 980-acre state park located in the town of Richland, near the eastern shore of Lake Ontario — may see certain attractions compromised due to high water levels.
“In 2017 we had to compromise on boat launches for safety reasons,” park manager Kelly Morrissette said.
Federal officials have attributed the current state of affairs — which has already seen Oswego, Cayuga and Wayne counties declare a state of emergency — to the IJC’s Plan 2014.
The bi-national agreement between the United States and Canada was institute with the goal of recalibrating how water levels in Lake Ontario are set.
“Severe flooding along Lake Ontario is devastating our shoreline communities,” Congressman John Katko, R-Camillus, said in a release. “It is clear high water levels are becoming more and more dangerous.Local properties, our region’s infrastructure and our economy are at significant risk.”
Katko blasted Plan 2014, calling the measure “devastating,” and solidified his commitment to call for “substantive action” from the IJC.
“Our communities simply cannot sustain high water levels and flooding year after year without mitigating action,” the congressman said. “I will continue to work to protect shoreline communities, residents and businesses in any way possible.”