Two weeks after the creation of the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged on Monday to invest up to $300 million to improve waterfront infrastructure and boost businesses in areas affected by flooding.
Cuomo's commitment came at a conference in Rochester to commence the task force's work. The initiative's co-chairs are Basil Seggos, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development. Other state agency leaders are on the panel.
The goal of the initiative is to make recommendations to the governor on how to make the shoreline more resilient while supporting economic development projects in Lake Ontario communities.
Cuomo acknowledged the investment, which will require a 15% match from local governments, is large. But he wants to avoid spending considerable state resources every time there is flooding along the lake.
"I would rather invest more and build it back better, more resilient, more economic development potential," he said.
Cuomo established the initiative after flooding affected Lake Ontario communities for the second time in three years. Some homeowners and businesses have been impacted, and shoreline erosion has been reported.
Communities will have until Labor Day to submit project proposals for consideration. The state-led initiative will review the projects and develop a plan to submit to the governor.
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In May, Cuomo declared a state of emergency for eight counties — Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence — along the lake. Last week, lake levels reached an all-time high.
The state has deployed resources, including more than 1.3 million sandbags and National Guard personnel, to respond to the high water levels and protect properties from flooding. Cuomo's office said Monday that 100 more National Guard members will be involved in sandbagging operations.
The International Joint Commission, a bi-national agency that regulates shared boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada, has said the flooding is due to wet weather in the Great Lakes Basin. There were high amounts of precipitation this spring — a repeat of what happened in 2017 when flooding occurred along the lake.
Cuomo agrees that "extreme weather" is a factor in the flooding. But he believes the commission hasn't done enough to prevent flooding.
The governor's office on Saturday released a letter to the commission that contained several demands, such as reimbursement of the state's flood response costs and making more money available for resiliency projects. If the commission fails to act, Cuomo threatened legal action.
Cuomo reiterated his position during Monday's event. He said the idea for potentially suing the commission came from state Sen. Rob Ortt, a western New York Republican. Ortt issued a press release in late May urging state Attorney General Letitia James to sue the federal government.
"I get paid to do one thing: Represent and protect the people of the state of New York ... If that IJC does not respond to us, we will see the IJC. And they're going to know how serious we are," Cuomo said.