By Terry Duffy
Water, water everywhere, and nowhere to go remains a continuing problem all along the lower Niagara River, from Lewiston out to Youngstown and beyond.
On Lake Ontario, from Youngstown east throughout to the Rochester and Syracuse areas, and up north toward Watertown, states of emergency remain due to ongoing situation of high lake waters, pounding waves and erosion affecting properties.
It's a problem that has carried on for close to a month now, with no end in sight in the near term. The International Joint Commission continues to regulate Lake Ontario levels per its recently enacted - and highly controversial - 2014 Plan between the U.S. and Canada. Lake discharges into the St. Lawrence River system are controlled via the Iroquois and Moses Saunders hydropower dams located to the west and east of Massena, south of Montreal. Both dams are meant to control flooding potential between the lake and Montreal.
For the IJC, it's trying to balance a swollen, 32,000-square-mile Lake Ontario basin brought on by unusually heavy spring rains combined with snow melt - and all the problems that brings - versus creating a certain disastrous flooding situation for thousands downriver in the Ottawa River and greater Montreal areas.
The IJC has stated that letting just one inch of water out of Lake Ontario - which remains more than 3 feet above its December average - would result in nearly a foot of water hitting Montreal with heavy flooding. Its current measures are intended to "prevent several feet of flooding in the Montreal area," according to IJC spokesman Frank Bevacqua, who said this week IJC remains hopeful that, with the Ottawa River having crested, increased outflows out of Lake Ontario could begin.
The problem is we are now into mid-May, with the Memorial Day weekend approaching and a typically very busy summer season ahead. And all river and shore interests remain in a difficult situation, with most now scrambling just to cope.
"My stairs are taking a beating and the beach is gone," said River Road resident Joe Belone, who questioned why boat traffic in the river is being allowed at all.
The photo of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours on Thursday.
In the Village of Lewiston, municipal engineers Nussbaumer & Clarke Inc. submitted a report late last week detailing concerns about the state of the docks behind Water Street Landing on Water Street. They suggested the marina is not safe in its present condition.
The report stated docks are in a dilapidated state, the structure is compromised in a number of areas, and tripping hazards exist. As it stands now, the village docks are closed. Orange fencing, police tape and a barricade are present to dissuade boaters.
Next door, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours is open and operational. The company has created a temporary raised ramp, partly comprised of a floating dock used in years past for its paddlewheeler.
On Monday, WJBT sent the municipality an indemnification "hold harmless" agreement. The letter stated Niagara Gorge Jet Boating Ltd. (WJBT), "holds harmless the Village of Lewiston from any and all claims" that might be made against the village arising "out of (WJBT's) use of the docks and adjacent waterfront where the commercial slips and public docks are located" in the village.
Trustees said the agreement does not have a time limit. The Village Board said it retains the right to revisit the WJBT dock situation and take further action to ensure pedestrian safety, if necessary. Department of Public Works Superintendent Terry Brolinski will monitor the situation.
"We're just looking out for the welfare of the people that are using it, as well as the liability on the Village of Lewiston," Mayor Terry Collesano said following the board's monthly meeting this week.
"We do have an extraordinary situation here and, again, Whirlpool is responding to that by doing the things that we can do," WJBT owner John Kinney said at the meeting.
It was there that some residents expressed concern over the speed at which jet boats are going as they pass by the village.
Tom Franklin of Lower River Road said, "They're just tearing the whole bank up. I probably lost, in the last maybe two weeks ... three feet."
He specifically called out Niagara Jet Adventures, as did Water Street residents Harry and Suzanne Buckholtz.
They have requested an NJA representative attend a Village Board meeting and explain the company's trolling procedures.
Suzanne Buckholtz said WJBT has worked with residents and is driving at an appropriate speed.
"John Kinney is cooperating with us," she said.
Guard Street resident Claudia Marasco said more needs to be done, and that jet boats should troll all the way past Artpark.
"We need to have a better situation for all of us, not some of us," she said.
WJBT has been applauded in recent years for its safety record, and for assisting the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Park Police in rescue efforts. The company operates out of Lewiston via a lease agreement with the village.
Waters invade the Youngstown Yacht Club.
In Youngstown, the flooding situation appears to have worsened over past days. The Youngstown Yacht Club on Water Street continues to experience swollen river water lapping onto its boardwalk property, with sandbagging, mounting debris and erosion becoming the norm. Just last week, YYC members struggled to clear out storm remnants, which included two private docks brought downriver by flooding.
At the nearby Niagara Jet Adventures, operators have been struggling with never-ending water entering their riverside complex. The result has been endless pumps running, emergency construction measures taken to rebuild docks, secure boats and maintain operations.
The business has significant property damage from flooding
"Just this week, we had to pull out a new hardwood floor that was ruined," said an NJA employee, who estimated the damage at $300,000.
Despite this, all impacted are maintaining hope for some semblance of a return to normal in the days and weeks ahead.
"We'll continue to run," said the NJA staffer, who noted the business had hosted a tour earlier that day. "And we watch out for properties."
The employee said NJA boats have been hugging the Canada shore upriver, and purposely not ramping up jet boat engines.
On Friday, an NJA spokesperson said, "Jet boating companies operating on the lower Niagara River adhere to very strict rules and regulations that are set forth and administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. Just yesterday, NJA had five Coast Guard (officers) on two of their boats that went to and from (the) Whirlpool, and they declared that NJA operates in a safe, secure and professional manner."
Olcott and Newfane are two areas that have experienced some of the most severe flooding. The Town of Newfane and the Newfane Tourism Board are now getting the word out that, despite the extremely high lake levels that closed down Krull County Park for the entire 2017 season, all Newfane and Olcott businesses and attractions are, indeed, open - and expected to stay that way.
"Town Hall and the Tourism Board would like to thank Western New Yorkers for the outpouring of concern over the issues related to high lake levels. Many in the region have called to express concern and offer help," said Sue Neidlinger, a Newfane Town Board member and owner of the Shoppe on Main gallery and artistry store. "Recent news stories reporting that our beach will stay closed through the 2017 season have also resulted in many calls to inquire about accessibility to the rest of our local attractions. We regret that the beach will remain closed for the season, but are happy to announce that all of our other attractions are opening on schedule."
Neidlinger reported area attractions not impacted by elevated Lake Ontario waters will open for the season, including:
All other amenities at Krull Park, including:
- The splash pad and Ye Old Log Cabin
- The Olcott Beach Carousel Park in the hamlet
- The Lake View Village Shoppes
- Main Street businesses and Bye's Popcorn
- The Van Horn Mansion and The West Creek Country Village
- The Town of Newfane Marina
- Fisherman's Park and the Burt Dam
"All of our events will also be held on schedule!" Neidlinger added.
She said those activities include the popular free summer concert series held in Olcott and Newfane; area fishing tournaments; car shows and food truck rodeos; the Fourth of July fireworks; plus an assortment of parades and festivals, including the Pirates Festival, The Mermaid Parade, The Patriots Parade, Old Olcott Days, The Olcott Beach Jazz Trail, The National Band Organ Rally, Farmer's Market and the August Fest Craft Show.
Joshua Maloni contributed to this report.