Fair Haven Flooding

Sandbags line a property on the shoreline of Little Sodus Bay in Fair Haven Tuesday.

Jane Corwin is ready to get to work. 

The New Yorker is one of six new members of the International Joint Commission, a bi-national panel responsible for overseeing shared boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada. Each country has three seats on the commission. 

Corwin, a former state assemblywoman from western New York, will serve as U.S. section chair. She will be joined by Rob Sisson, of Michigan, and Lance Yohe, of North Dakota. The trio was confirmed by the Senate last week. 

The Canadian commissioners are Pierre Beland, of Montreal, F. Henry Lickers, of Akwesasne, Ontario, and Merrell-Ann Phare, of Winnipeg. Beland is the Canadian section chair. 

Corwin said in an interview with The Citizen that she's eager to meet the Canadian commissioners to develop a calendar of meetings on governing the waterways within the panel's purview. From those meetings, she hopes to set the commission's priorities. 

Canadian commissioners

The new Canadian members of the International Joint Commission are Merrell-Ann Phare, Pierre Beland and Henry Lickers. 

One of the top priorities will likely be the rising water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Corwin, whose former Assembly district included communities along the lake, is aware of the flooding along the lake and river. As a state lawmaker, she opposed the adoption of Plan 2014 — a water management plan that determines how the commission will regulate lake levels. 

Corwin acknowledged last year that it's unlikely Plan 2014 will be abolished, despite calls from federal, state and local officials to ditch the regulatory guide. 

Last week, she noted that New York isn't alone in experiencing flooding. Water levels have been high along the St. Lawrence River. Flooding has affected several communities in Canada and water levels are high in the Great Lakes. 

"This issue is touching on several different commissioners, so I'm sure there will be a discussion about it," Corwin said. 

The other incoming U.S. commissioners are aware of the problem. Sisson, whose sister-in-law lives in the Syracuse area, has followed news coverage of the flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. He said the commissioners received a briefing on Plan 2014 after they were first nominated last year. 

Sisson said he's been informed that commission staff is planning to brief them on Lake Ontario flooding. 

"There's some issues all across the border," he said, "but I think the most pressing is what's happening in the Great Lakes right now and the water levels." 

Yohe agrees with his colleagues that Lake Ontario flooding will be on their agenda. He also noted that there are other areas along the U.S. Canadian border that are experiencing flooding. 

"Those will probably be the first priorities," he said. 

President Donald Trump first nominated Corwin, Sisson and Yohe in August 2018. However, the Senate didn't consider their nominations before the end of the year and Trump renominated the trio in January. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the nominations in April. The Senate confirmed Corwin, Sisson and Yohe by unanimous consent Thursday. 

Corwin, Sisson and Yohe will replace two holdovers from the Obama administration — Lana Pollack, who served as U.S. section chair since 2010, and Rich Moy. The third U.S. seat has been vacant since 2016. 

With only two U.S. members and no Canadian commissioners, the IJC lacked a quorum. U.S. Rep. John Katko, a leading critic of Plan 2014, said the unfilled seats prevented "any substantive response to the serious threats posed by high lake levels." 

"I am hopeful that, while this process took much longer than required, the concerns of Lake Ontario residents, property owners, businesses and municipalities will finally begin to be addressed," Katko, R-Camillus said. 

Now that the commission is at full strength, Corwin is hopeful that progress can be made on Lake Ontario water levels and other issues. 

While she praised Moy and Pollack, she said the lack of a quorum "makes it very difficult for progress to be made." That's why she was excited to learn that Canada appointed new commissioners to the panel. 

"It gives you a fresh start, a new beginning, a great opportunity for everybody to come in at the same time and make an impact," Corwin said. 

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


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.