by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara and Orleans counties will jointly oppose efforts to raise Lake Ontario water levels by as much as 12 inches, Niagara County Legislature Deputy Majority Leader Dave Godfrey, R-Wilson, announced following a meeting with his Orleans County counterparts earlier this week.
Godfrey is also hoping local residents will make their voices heard at a public hearing scheduled for June 5 in Olcott.
The proposal was drafted by the International Joint Commission, the body that was established by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. The plan, called BV7 by international planners, would raise and lower water levels in Lake Ontario by anywhere from 9 to 12 inches to "restore greater balance to the region's regulation of water levels" to "help restore the region's wetlands" according to the IJC's website.
The plan would also drastically alter water levels for the first time since the 1950s.
And that has caused alarm for residents along the Lake Ontario shore, Godfrey said, prompting delegates to the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance (NORA) to draft a measure to be passed by both county legislatures opposing the BV7 plan.
"This changes our water levels to higher highs and lower lows," Godfrey said. "This means much more erosion and lake-bank damage. And also, it's going to affect our harbor drastically - especially in the fishing season when we have lower waters, our boats won't even be able to get out into the lake."
The plan also fails to make realistic projections about storm surges, Godfrey noted, adding that higher water levels coupled with storm surges posed a serious problem for the Lower Niagara River and 18 Mile Creek. The IJC website forecasts a 3-inch rise and an 8-inch drop "90 percent of the time" with the BV7 plan - while excluding information about the other 10 percent of the time.
"Every feeder stream is going to feel those higher highs and lower lows," Godfrey said.
Godfrey warned of a substantial economic impact on the fishing and boating industry that is so critical to port communities like Wilson, Olcott, and Point Breeze in the Town of Carlton.
"The real concern is the loss of property, the decline of property values, and a potential loss of more than $30 million in sport fishing and sailing revenues that come into Niagara and Orleans counties," Godfrey said.
Godfrey, who along with Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, and Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, represents Niagara County's lakeshore communities, said he expects the Legislature to pass the NORA resolution easily at Tuesday's meeting. The NORA measure calls on the IJC to reject BV7 and to conduct an economic-impact study as part of any future plans.
"We want to be good stewards of the environment, but this measure is destructive to our communities' futures," Godfrey stated. "The current plan has been in place for 50 years, and people have built retention walls and dockage based on the current levels, and the drastic change they're proposing will have a major, major economic impact on virtually the entire southern shore of Lake Ontario."
Godfrey noted that Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, and Legislator Mike Hill, R-Middleport, had both been active in drafting the resolution's language, but said the major driving force in galvanizing local opposition has been State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, whom he credited with helping to inform local residents on the issue.
"In hopes that we can avert this proposed plan, Sen. Maziarz was on the forefront of this as far back as February, meeting with the IJC, helping to notify our lakeshore property owners and yacht clubs to get the word out," Godfrey said. Godfrey noted that the IJC had agreed to hold local hearings on the proposed plan due primarily to those efforts.
Godfrey said he and other local leaders hope local residents will come out in force at the IJC's June 5 "public information" meeting, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Olcott Fire Co., 1691 Lockport-Olcott Road (Route 78), in Olcott.
"It's already been identified that the three counties of Niagara, Orleans, and Monroe are the ones that are going to be hardest hit by this change," Godfrey said. "They have some of the best natural harbors on the south shore of Lake Ontario. We'd like to keep it that way."