OSWEGO — Members of the International Joint Commission revealed at a roundtable discussion Friday that they hope to evaluate Plan 2014, a water regulation plan that some elected officials and residents blame for flooding along Lake Ontario.
Jane Corwin, a former New York state assemblywoman who now serves as U.S. section chair of the commission, made the announcement during an opening statement at the hour-long discussion, which was organized by U.S. Reps. Anthony Brindisi and John Katko.
The commission, a bi-national panel that oversees shared boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada, will seek funding and support from the respective governments to commence the review.
Corwin and Pierre Beland, Canadian section chair of the commission, faced questions from federal, state and local elected officials about Plan 2014. All of the officials who spoke, including Brindisi and Katko, believe the plan has contributed to the record water levels and flooding along Lake Ontario in two of the last three years.
Since the commissioners took office in May, Corwin said they have spent most of their time on Lake Ontario flooding. However, Corwin didn't share the position that Plan 2014 is the cause of Lake Ontario flooding.
She acknowledged the concerns raised by officials that the plan was adopted in late 2016 and flooding occurred months later. But she believes — as the commission has said before — that heavy rainfall is the main factor that caused water levels to rise and flooding along the lake.
"No plan could've done more to mitigate that flooding,' she said.
Beland agrees. He said the precipitation combined with melting ice and snow contributed to the high water levels.
Plan 2014, he continued, "is a good plan." He said, however, that the commission is exploring what could be done to "tweak" the plan.
"We are working for you and we're not working against you," he said.
Many of the elected officials in the room disputed the commissioners' assessment of the situation. Katko, R-Camillus, believes there is a link between Plan 2014 and the flooding. He represents three counties — Cayuga, Wayne and the western part of Oswego — that have been affected by high water levels.
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He questioned one purported benefit of Plan 2014 — that it would help restore wetlands. Steve LeRoy, chairman of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, agreed with Katko that the environmental benefits of the plan haven't materialized.
LeRoy, a self-described environmentalist and outdoorsman, said muskrat colonies along the lake have been flooded out and eagles that used to nest along the Wayne County shoreline have left.
"It's been devastating to the environment," he said.
Brindisi, D-Utica, pressed the commissioners on the "triggers" with the plan that calls for increasing outflows. Other elected officials have wondered why outflows weren't maintained at high levels to prevent flooding.
Data posted on the commission's website shows that outflows were higher than the historical average in late 2018 and in the first week and a half of 2019. Outflows briefly decreased before rising again until April, when flows decreased due to flooding in eastern Canada.
Outflows are at high levels again. The commission, through the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, have maintained record outflows in an attempt to prevent Lake Ontario flooding from getting worse. But Brindisi thinks more should be done sooner to prevent flooding in the future.
"We're waiting too long to let water out," he said.
Corwin said it's one of the points they will evaluate with Plan 2014. But she noted that high inflows are a concern. Other lakes, which have high water levels, drain into Lake Ontario. Whether it's Plan 2014 or a previous plan, "no plan can accommodate this much water," she said.
After the meeting, Katko joined the commissioners for a tour of Sodus Point, a village in Wayne County that has been impacted by flooding for the second time in three years.
Before concluding the meeting, Katko left the commissioners with a final message.
"Stop the damn flooding," he said.