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Cuomo declares state of emergency for communities impacted by Lake Ontario flooding

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Wed, May 3rd 2017 09:15 am
Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the following counties in order to expedite repair to impacted structures and construction of shoreline stabilization projects: Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne. The governor's order empowers DEC and other state agencies to issue emergency individual permits for those larger-scale response actions that may be necessary. (Photo courtesy of the governor's Flickr page)
Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the following counties in order to expedite repair to impacted structures and construction of shoreline stabilization projects: Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne. The governor's order empowers DEC and other state agencies to issue emergency individual permits for those larger-scale response actions that may be necessary. (Photo courtesy of the governor's Flickr page)

Deploys 20 members of National Guard and Lake Ontario Rapid Response Team

State formally appealing to International Joint Commission to release additional water through Moses-Saunders Dam to lower Lake Ontario water levels
Lake Ontario flood assistance hotline is fully staffed to provide latest information and resources at 866-244-3839

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for the following counties in order to expedite repair to impacted structures and construction of shoreline stabilization projects: Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne. The governor's order empowers DEC and other state agencies to issue emergency individual permits for those larger-scale response actions that may be necessary.

Cuomo also announced the deployment of 20 members of the National Guard and a coordinated Lake Ontario Rapid Response Team, including experts from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, National Guard, State Police and Office of General Services, along with city and county agencies. 

At the governor's direction, 365,000 sandbags have been deployed to the region and are ready for placement in lower elevation areas. The deployments by county are as follows: 60,000 for Niagara County, 30,000 for Orleans County, 115,000 for Wayne County, 50,000 for Jefferson County, 30,000 for Oswego County and 80,000 to Monroe County. Five sandbaggers have also been deployed to Niagara, Monroe and Wayne counties.

The governor also announced the state is formally appealing to the International Joint Commission to release additional water through the Moses-Saunders Dam to lower Lake Ontario water levels and protect impacted communities. The IJC is a binational organization established by the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. It regulates Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River water levels by controlling water releases through the Moses-Saunders Dam located on the St. Lawrence River between Cornwall, Ontario, and Massena, New York. 

In addition, the governor has launched a Lake Ontario flood assistance hotline to provide the latest information to residents affected in their community at 866-244-3839. Residents can call the hotline for the latest flooding forecast, help with flood mitigation measures like sandbags, or for technical assistance regarding on-site repairs. 

"With waters on the Lake Ontario coastline rising to the highest levels in 20 years, we are remaining vigilant and will continue to do everything in our power to assist communities with flooding preparation and response measures," Cuomo said. "I am declaring a state of emergency to expedite flood mitigation efforts throughout the region and provide support to all New Yorkers in need of assistance. In addition to the Lake Ontario Rapid Response Team, expert coastal engineers are being deployed to local governments and residents in harm's way." 

DHSES has been in constant communication with county emergency management officials in the region. The New York State Police assets are ready for deployment as needed, and troopers are on high alert and instructed to closely monitor flood prone areas for rising waters while on patrol. Two high-axle vehicles with zodiac boats and an additional sandbagger has been pre-positioned at DHSES Chili Stockpile, and the stockpile is also fully stocked with generators, light towers, pumps, hoses and barriers, which can be deployed as necessary.

As part of the Lake Ontario Rapid Response Team, DEC is deploying a team of experienced coastal engineers to Lake Ontario to work with property owners to address erosion, conduct site visits, meet with owners, and offer technical guidance. The team will rapidly review all emergency permit applications received. DEC's engineers stand ready to work with property owners so that protective structures can be repaired and homeowners can take appropriate actions expeditiously. Property owners can contact DEC's Division of Water at 518-402-8185 or [email protected].

As of April 27, Lake Ontario levels rose about 25 inches since the beginning of April, reaching 247.7 feet, which is over 20 inches above the seasonal average. The current Army Corp of Engineers Lake Level forecast indicates the lake may rise an additional 3 inches through May 28. The coastal communities of Lake Ontario are at particular risk from wind-driven waves and even higher water elevations from storm surge. Many towns have declared a state of emergency.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "With increased precipitation and rapid snow melt, record water flows through major tributaries upstream and downstream of the lake, water is high throughout the Great Lakes system. The governor has directed DEC to take strong actions now to assist local communities and residents with erosion and flooding issues. The state of emergency and associated actions announced today will reduce flood risk and help speed recovery."

DEC has already spent or committed $3.1 million to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie resilience as follows:

•$343,000 in 2016 Water Quality Improvement Project grants to support resilient, nature-based shoreline projects along Great Lakes shorelines. An additional $457,000 is included in the 2017 Consolidated Funding Application. Priority of program: at-risk public infrastructure.

•$500,000 for Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River coastal resiliency planning, including nature-based shoreline studies that will support subsequent coastal projects.

•$25,000 for SUNY ESF to develop a "Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Atlas" that will identify opportunities for wetland enhancements that will leverage federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds.

•$35,000 for wetland protection plans.

•$320,000 to develop technical guidance for implementing nature-based shorelines and designs for coastal properties owned by State Parks.

•$480,575 has been awarded from the Great Lakes Basin Small Grants Program; an additional $200,000 will be available 2017 to support coastal resiliency projects:

•Natural infrastructure/living shoreline protection techniques

•Coastal wetland monitoring and restoration activities

•Green infrastructure to improve coastal resiliency

•Community stewardship and education initiatives

•Coastal property/ecosystem vulnerability analyses

•Economic and social analyses of the value of resiliency measures

The governor's office said the best way to receive official emergency information, which can change quickly, is to subscribe to NY-ALERT (www.nyalert.gov) the state's free, customizable, all-hazards notification system.

More safety tips for staying safe before, during, and after floods and other storms can be found on the DHSES website: www.dhses.ny.gov.

New York State Sen. Rob Ortt applauded the state's decision to declare a state of emergency. The declaration comes more than one week after Ortt urged Cuomo in a letter to expand the local state of emergencies for Niagara and Orleans counties to the entire state.

"Homeowners along Lake Ontario's shoreline have been doing everything they can to protect their properties from being washed away," Ortt said. "Since the International Joint Commission's federal Plan 2014 policy went into effect this year, erosion across Niagara County's entire shoreline has worsened. Flooding over the weekend has damaged many homes, businesses and infrastructure. For some residents and business owners, the devastation is irreversible. With this state of emergency, we can now look into funding sources to help municipalities, homeowners and businesses reclaim some of the losses. Along with Congressmen (Chris) Collins and local officials, I have railed against Plan 2014 for years and I hope the state will step up to find a long-term solution as well."

In another letter to the DEC last week, Ortt requested an expedited DEC Shore Protection Permit process for communities negatively impacted by Lake Ontario's severe erosion. The permit would allow residents and business owners to protect and stabilize their properties by building out.

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