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'An international issue': Groups in NY, Canada unite to fight Plan 2014
ENVIRONMENT

'An international issue': Groups in NY, Canada unite to fight Plan 2014

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Fair Haven Flooding 18.JPG

FILE - In this June 2019 photo, Lake Ontario levels continue to rise at Fair Haven Beach State Park beach and along the shoreline of Little Sodus Bay in Fair Haven.

Three organizations — one in Canada and two in New York — are uniting to fight Plan 2014, a Lake Ontario water management scheme that members of the groups believe is to blame for the flooding that occurred along the shoreline in two of the last three years. 

The Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Alliance, Save Our Sodus and United Shoreline Ontario launched a campaign, "Join Forces! Fight Back!," to challenge the International Joint Commission — a bi-national panel that manages shared boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada — and raise awareness about the effects of Plan 2014. 

Sarah Delicate, president of United Shoreline Ontario, told reporters during a conference call Thursday that it's a myth the Canadian side of Lake Ontario hasn't been affected by high water levels. She has an office in Bowmanville, which is east of Toronto. Flooding occurred along the lake's northern shoreline this year. 

"This is not a local issue," Delicate said. "It's an international issue with an international board that's overseeing it. We have a shared problem and we are in desperate, desperate need of a shared solution." 

The Canadians and New Yorkers decided to combine their efforts due to concerns that Lake Ontario could flood again in 2020. According to the International Joint Commission, the lake is at 246.1 feet — about 1.5 feet higher than the historical average for this time of year and a foot higher than it was in mid-December 2018. 

In the past, the commission blamed extreme weather for the high water levels. But business owners, elected officials and residents say Plan 2014 is the main culprit. 

The plan was adopted by the commission in late 2016. The following spring, lake levels reached record levels and flooding caused damage to businesses, homes and infrastructure. 

This year, the lake topped 249 feet to set a new record. There was more flooding along the shoreline. 

Lake Ontario St. Lawrence River Alliance President Jim Shea said his group organized rallies in New York communities, including Sodus Point, to "expose Plan 2014 and how it's contributing to the devastation and flooding along the lake." The organization has more than 1,000 members and is raising funds for a lawsuit. He is aware that New York has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the IJC. 

Shea believes — and his partners agreed — that lake levels are kept high to benefit the shipping industry. With higher water levels, he explained, larger vessels can haul cargo and the shipping season is longer. 

"The higher water is in the fall and winter, there's an increased probability of flooding in the springtime," Shea said, who also noted that water supplies and sewer systems are being harmed by the higher water levels. 

Ed Leroux, a member of Save Our Sodus, agreed with Delicate that Lake Ontario flooding and Plan 2014's effects are international issues. 

By aligning with each other, Leroux thinks the groups will have a larger voice to challenge the commission. But, he conceded, time isn't on their side. 

"We're well on our way to another flood season," he said. "It's almost impossible to argue with the arithmetic." 

There will be a review of Plan 2014. Congress recently approved a $1.4 trillion spending bill that includes $1.5 million for the IJC to assess the plan. Canada will match the U.S. funding to support the review. 

It's unlikely, though, that any significant changes will be made to Plan 2014. To amend or repeal the plan, the six-member commission must reach a consensus. While there has been interest from past and present commissioners in altering the plan, Canadian commissioners aren't supportive of those actions. 

Delicate acknowledged the commission is reviewing the plan, but she doesn't believe it will be done in a timely manner. The review process, based on her understanding of the plan, will take 12 years. 

There is pressure on Canada's government to address high water levels. Signatures have been collected and rallies have been held. Delicate said some groups are planning civil disobedience. Her organization won't be engaged in those efforts — they will be focused on dialogue and conversation, she said — but she agrees that more water needs to be moved out of the lake. 

The commission has increased outflows, but the groups think the flows should be higher. They don't think the commission will take a more aggressive approach because of the shipping season. 

Delicate disputed the commission's explanation that flooding and high water levels are caused by extreme rainfall and climate change. 

"This is not weather," she said. "It's policy." 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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