Niagara Gazette

Local News

June 17, 2014

Commission: Allow natural levels on Lake Ontario

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — The joint U.S. and Canadian agency that oversees management of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Lake Ontario released a report Tuesday recommending more natural variations of water levels to restore the health of shoreline wetlands.

Sen. George Maziarz said Tuesday he was disappointed with the plan.

"Despite proclaiming to want their input, the IJC is ignoring the needs of vocal residents and communities on Lake Ontario’s southern shore whose property will be hurt by this plan," he said in a statement.

The International Joint Commission plan — the culmination 14 years of scientific studies and often contentious public debate — seeks to balance the needs of shoreline property owners, commercial shipping, recreational boating, hydropower production and ecosystem health in controlling releases from the Moses-Saunders Dam in Cornwall, Ontario.

The "Plan 2014" recommendations take steps to restore natural ecosystems around the lake after 60 years of regulations that weighed business and property interests but ignored environmental issues. It would allow the lake's water level to rise a few inches higher, on average, in spring and fall.

Field work and analysis during the commission's study demonstrated that the current regulation plan has substantially degraded 64,000 acres of shoreline wetlands that are critical to filtering pollution and providing habitat to native amphibians, birds, mammals and fish.

The plan, which cost more than $20 million to develop, is subject to approval by the U.S. and Canadian governments, with no set timetable for implementation.

It's the final version of a plan announced last year and presented at public meetings where some of the lake's south shore property owners voiced opposition, saying its allowance for greater fluctuations in water levels would speed erosion and increase flooding risks.

"The extreme variations in water levels that may occur with Plan 2014 could have severe long-term ramifications," Maziarz said. "Where will the IJC be when these property owners need help with erosion mitigation and land restoration? Plan 2014 gives short shrift to the very real and very negative consequences of its implementation and offers no help in these areas. Homeowners and municipalities who are already struggling to get by will be left to fend for themselves.

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