As Lake Ontario water levels continue to rise, two New York state senators are calling on the U.S. Senate to confirm President Donald Trump's International Joint Commission nominees.
State Sens. Pam Helming and Rob Ortt, along with several of their colleagues representing communities along the lake and St. Lawrence River, signed a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to hold a confirmation vote.
In 2018, Trump nominated former state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, Rob Sisson and Lance Yohe to serve on the commission. Corwin, if confirmed, would serve as U.S. section chair.
The commission consists of six members — three from the U.S. and three from Canada. The bi-national panel regulates shared waterways, such as Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
The Senate didn't confirm Corwin, Sisson and Yohe before the end of session last year. Trump renominated the trio earlier this year, but there is no timetable for when their nominations will be considered.
State lawmakers believe the U.S. Senate should act quickly because of the situation along Lake Ontario. Rising lake levels have led to concerns that there will be a repeat of 2017, when flooding affected shoreline communities.
That year, Trump signed a major disaster declaration due to the damage caused by the flooding.
"It is imperative for the U.S. Senate to vote on the president's nominees for the International Joint Commission," Helming, R-Canandaigua, said in a statement. "We need to fill these positions with representatives from the United States who understand the unique challenges southern shoreline communities face. Every day that goes by without a vote puts our region in danger."
She added, "We cannot leave the fate of shoreline communities solely in the hands of the Canadian representatives on the IJC and the same individuals who originally approved Plan 2014. We deserve a voice."
Plan 2014 is a water management strategy that has been panned by Helming and some elected officials. The plan was adopted by the commission in 2016. When flooding occurred the following year due to record rainfall in the Great Lakes Basin, Helming and others blamed it on Plan 2014.
Since Trump took office, federal and state representatives have urged the president to appoint new U.S. commissioners. The two remaining commissioners, U.S. section chair Lana Pollack and Rich Moy, were appointed by former President Barack Obama. Moy and Pollack were on the commission at the time of Plan 2014's adoption.
One of the U.S. seats and the three Canadian seats on the commission are vacant.
New York's U.S. senators haven't taken a position on Trump's IJC nominees. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office said the nominations appear noncontroversial, but the timing of the votes and whether the Senate votes to confirm the nominees is up to McConnell and the Republican majority.
"We look forward to the opportunity to vote on these nominees when the Republican majority decides to put them up for committee review and then a floor vote," Schumer said in a statement. "But what matters, in terms of controlling water levels to reduce lake shore flooding, is that the IJC and the Board of Control take action now, as we have urged, to maximize water outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam."
Gillibrand's office explained that the senator wants to ensure Trump's nominees will be balanced and follow the science.
The White House declined to comment on the status of the IJC nominees.
Even if Trump's nominees are confirmed, it's unlikely that Plan 2014 will be altered or repealed. Any action by the commission would require support from Canadian commissioners.
Corwin, who represented parts of Erie and Niagara counties in the state Assembly, opposes Plan 2014. But she acknowledged in an interview with The Citizen last year that it would be difficult to withdraw from the water management plan.
Sisson, of Michigan, and Yohe, of North Dakota, were familiar with the concerns about Plan 2014, but they didn't take a position on whether it should be changed.
"We must give the appointees ample time to consider what precautionary steps can be taken and to implement preemptive safety measures to protect the homes and businesses along Lake Ontario's south shore," said Ortt, a Republican who represents Niagara and Orleans counties.