South shore lawmakers urge John Kerry to block Plan 2014

A charter crew passes by a cargo ship this summer on the St. Lawrence River, Ogdensburg. Melanie Kimbler-Lago / Watertown Daily Times

Southern Lake Ontario lawmakers are calling on U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry to block the implementation of a new flow plan for the lake and St. Lawrence River.

Set to replace a half-century-old water regulation plan, the U.S.-Canadian International Joint Commission’s “Plan 2014” proposal has drawn criticism from eastern and southern lakeshore communities because of increased risks of flooding and coastal property damage.

However, upper-lake and river communities generally embrace the modern, more “natural” flow management strategy that would restore wetlands and likely extend the recreational boating season for the tourism-driven riverfront towns and villages.

“Under Plan 2014, higher levels could leave our lakeshore susceptible to significant flooding and increased erosion. This would almost certainly result in millions of dollars in damages to both private properties and public infrastructure, with no recourse at all for compensation,” Monroe County Executive Maggie A. Brooks in a news release last week.

She joins state Sens. Joseph Robach and Michael Nozzolio and Assemblyman Robert Oaks in voicing their opposition of the plan to Mr. Kerry.

Monroe County legislators and Wayne County’s Board of Supervisors also have passed a resolution opposing the IJC proposal, which the binational commission estimates would increase the annual cost of shoreline protection and maintenance by $2.2 million.

Plan 2014 supporters, on the other hand, argue that coastal property owners have benefited from the relatively stable water levels under the existing plan — 1958-DD — at the expense of the environment for more than five decades.

In August, Jefferson County legislators unanimously endorsed Plan 2014, joining dozens of organizations that expressed their support of the proposal to the secretary of state earlier in the summer.

The Clayton-based Save the River — which was among the 41 environmental, sportsmen, higher education and conservation groups that sent a letter to Mr. Kerry this summer — view Plan 2014 as a “balanced plan” that finally acknowledges the environment and recreational boating interests as stakeholders in the regulation of the lake and river.

If adopted, the IJC said in a June 17 report, Plan 2014 “would address much, though not all” of the damage dealt to the region’s wetlands over time.

While there is no deadline for action, the commission hopes to implement the new water management plan by the end of 2014 — hence the name “Plan 2014” — with approval from the U.S. and Canadian federal governments.

But some coastal property owners argue that without a mitigation plan in place, the governments would essentially be confiscating their properties by endorsing the new flow plan.

“There has been virtually no discussion about mitigation of the damages acknowledged by the IJC. It appears that the IJC expects shoreline property owners and recreational boaters to bear the costs associated with implementation of Plan 2014,” Monroe County Republican legislators said in their July 22 letter to Mr. Kerry.

They also said in the letter that the cost to coastal communities has been “significantly underestimated.”

While the IJC cannot mandate mitigation, commissioners suggested that some of the extra hydropower revenue can be invested in a federal or state coastal management program to help prevent and alleviate property damage.

According to the IJC, hydropower production is projected to see an average annual gain of $5.26 million under the new water management plan.

 

By Jaegun Lee, Times Staff Writer