In letter, Cuomo demands action from IJC

James Neiss/staff photographerA Border Patrol boat launches at Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown, where Lake Ontario’s high levels have submerged dock access ramps and affected the shoreline. 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to see some swift action from the International Joint Commission, the binational group that oversees the regulation of water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway. 

In an release issued by his office on Saturday, Cuomo released a copy of a letter he sent to members of the IJC, demanding that they take "immediate action" in response to recent Lake Ontario flooding. 

The letter, which was directed to current IJB co-chairs Jane Corwin and Merrell-Ann Phare, notes that for the second time in three years, many communities and businesses along the lake are experiencing record-high water levels, resulting in the release of tens of millions of dollars in state funds for response measures.  

In his letter, Cuomo says IJC has "no excuse for its failure to prepare for adequately managing the high-water levels," suggesting, based on high water levels experienced in 2017, the group "should have been aware of the present danger from the massive snowpack and likelihood of continued rains into the spring of this year."

tInstead of acting, Cuomo charges that the IJC continued the "status quo," which he contends contributed to more flooding and more property damage. 

"We demand that the IJC make New York whole for its millions in unreimbursed expenditures, and that the IJC modify its water management and planning to reduce the flooding and damage being done to New York's shoreline communities," Cuomo wrote. 

In addition, Cuomo's letter references the possibility of legal action, noting that state Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, previously suggested, in a letter to the New York State Attorney General, that such a move may be warranted. Cuomo, as have other local and state leaders in recent months, questioned Plan 2014, the regulatory framework used by IJC members to regulate water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Cuomo noted that, in adopting Plan 2014, the IJC found that the new regulatory scheme would result in "less frequent deviations from a regulation plan" and would "provide long-term benefits, upstream and downstream ... with greater security and predictability."

Cuomo said the high-water events of 2017 and 2019 demonstrate that "this could not be farther from the truth."

"The IJC must provide a more protective management system that delivers on the promises that it made in adopting Plan 2014," Cuomo writes. 

On June 4, Lake Ontario remained at 75.90 m (249.02 ft), extending the new historic lake level record first reached on June 2. It is expected that the water level of Lake Ontario will continue rising gradually over the next several days. Lake Erie water levels and outflows into Lake Ontario remain above record-highs and have risen slightly over the past several days. 

In response to record-lake levels, IJC board members have indicated that they will continue to monitor the situation and will make use of every opportunity to increase outflows, and consider all possible measures to provide relief.