By Terry Duffy
Following months of discussion and a fair amount of local controversy, the International Joint Commission on Thursday signed off on Plan 2014, an updated regulation policy for determining water levels and flows in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Plan 2014 is intended to better manage water flows in the St. Lawrence River - namely those through the Moses-Saunders Dam between Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York. That's according to the IJC, a binational board that assists both the U.S. and Canadian governments on addressing issues involving the trans-boundary waters between both countries,
The updated order plan replaces an outdated system of regulating flows that dates to the 1950s.
Upstate environmental advocacy interests, led by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-21st District, along with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, had long campaigned for the change. They charge that, for more than 50 years, St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario water levels have been regulated to benefit hydroelectric power generation and seaway shipping, without consideration for the environment. The result has been significant changes to the lake and river's natural habitats and water flow processes, and reduced critical natural services for people.
Plan 2014 is designed to undo decades of devastation, improve the resiliency of shorelines, ensure the survival of birds, mammals and fish, and benefit the region's residents and businesses, environmental advocates claim.
"Plan 2014 is a modern plan for managing water levels and flows that will restore the health and diversity of coastal wetlands, perform better under changing climate conditions, and continue to protect against extreme high and low water levels," U.S. Section Chair Lana Pollack said.
Canadian Section Chair Gordon Walker said, "We are pleased that Plan 2014 will bring system-wide improvements, with consideration of ecosystem health and recreational boating, along with shoreline communities, commercial navigation and hydropower production."
Both report Plan 2014 is expected to provide a host of benefits for both countries, allowing for a more natural flow of water levels on the upper and lower St. Lawrence, as well as improving the ecosystem health and diversity of Lake Ontario.
However, the plan also has also seen its share of opponents, including scores of residents and communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline of New York state, from the Niagara River to Watertown. Many fear the new water flow arrangement will make aggravated shoreline erosion and costly shore maintenance conditions that now exist even worse.
U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-27th District, joined with State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-62nd District, and Assemblyman-elect Mike Norris, R-144th District, in blasting the IJC on Plan 2014. They argue the measure will bring a significant increase to the cost of shoreline maintenance for property owners and communities, and have a negative impact to local governments and the economy.
"This decision just shows that today's government is not working for the people," Ortt said. "Hundreds of miles away, unelected bureaucrats are making major decisions that will have a devastating impact here in our community. Had they asked or listened to those who live, visit or work along Lake Ontario, they'd know we're already dealing with a dangerously deteriorating shoreline."
"The Joint Commission's plan amounts to throwing gasoline on a fire," Ortt continued. "We need consistent water levels for local residents, small businesses and family farms along the shore, not heavy fluctuations that will only aggravate flooding and erosion. I will continue to work with elected representatives at all levels to stop this plan in its tracks."
Norris said, "This decision by the IJC is an insult to the residents of the Lake Ontario shoreline and further exacerbates our community's faith in bureaucratic government institutions. It is clear that the IJC is willingly pursuing its own agenda and ignoring the concerns and voice of our community. I plan fully, to fight tooth and nail against Plan 2014."
Collins, who has vehemently opposed Plan 2014 since its introduction, has vowed to use his role in Congress and influence with President-elect Donald Trump's administration to defeat the plan.
"If the International Joint Commission thinks for a second that Plan 2014 will ever be fully implemented, they are sorely mistaken," Collins said. "I can guarantee you that I will do everything in my power to protect the taxpayers, homeowners and small businesses along the Lake Ontario shoreline that are set to be devastated by this bureaucratic disaster.
"As long as I am a member of Congress, I will fight to block any and all funding paths this plan needs to be implemented.
"Additionally, the incoming Republican administration will know from day one how important it is to eliminate Plan 2014 once and for all."