Lake Ontario is chewing up the Niagara County shoreline at an alarming rate. Lakefront properties worth millions of dollars are rapidly being destroyed by erosion. This process has accelerated during the last five years, not by an act of God, but by deliberate policy choices made by the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada. Our governments, in order to cater to the interests of the shipping and hydropower industries, have diminished outflow through the St. Lawrence Seaway, causing Lake Ontario to be the only one of five Great Lakes to have higher water levels. Through their surrogate, the International Joint Commission, our leaders are consigning hundreds of Niagara County waterfront homes, businesses and public facilities to the relentless pounding of the waves of Lake Ontario.

That this ongoing man-made disaster has negatively impacted our lakeside communities was driven home at a public hearing held by the IJC at the Olcott Fire Hall on Oct. 30, 2008. Resident after resident complained bitterly of disappearing beaches, backyards, docks and decks, and even houses. One woman told a harrowing tale of waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of her living room wall crashing into the lake. Others told of properties held in the family for generations rapidly sliding into the surf. One frustrated individual threatened to “slug somebody.” Statements were read on behalf of our elected representatives, but as it turned out, no one was listening. At this writing, Lake Ontario is at its highest level in history, and powerful 3- to 4-foot waves have battered the shoreline this spring like never before.

It is a sad fact of life in Niagara County that our lives are shaped by forces beyond our control. Public authorities loom large here. They answer to no one, not even the governor. The IJC is many layers of bureaucracy removed from you and I. It’s surprising they even sat still for two hours to listen to public comments, let alone act in our best interests.

To disclose, I have lived on the Wilson shoreline since 1995 in a house I inherited. My little piece of waterfront is well protected by a mountain of boulders deposited there from the construction of the Niagara Power Project during the 1950s. Boulders and big chunks of concrete, collectively called rip rap comprise a large percentage of erosion control efforts, usually outperforming structures such as walls, berms or dikes due to their ability to diffuse and deflect the forces of wave action. The strategy of using rip rap to control erosion is practiced on just about every waterway in Western New York and around the world.

Now that the City of Niagara Falls is poised to remove the Robert Moses Parkway to open up the Niagara Gorge for the benefit of its economy, real estate values, tourism industry and quality of life, I would like to put forth a proposal that would be a huge win-win situation, not only for the city but the rest of Niagara County. In particular, lakefront communities such as Youngstown, Porter, Olcott and my hometown, Wilson, home of Wilson Harbor and its renowned Boathouse Restaurant, a thriving charter fishing industry, and one of Western New York’s best beaches at the Wilson Tuscarora State Park.

Hundreds of tons of concrete chunks from the demolition of 6 miles of useless Moses parkway, as it parallels Lewiston Road in the City of Niagara Falls, could be transported and dumped along the Lake Ontario shoreline to combat the higher lake levels and relentless destruction of our precious Niagara County waterfront.

As a matter of fact, mitigation of erosion damage and compensation of lakefront property owners is one aspect of the IJC treaty, which was kicked upstairs to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when the IJC decided on lake levels by not deciding. Here is a golden opportunity to save our Lake Ontario waterfront, assist taxpaying lakefront property owners, create a true Niagara County greenway by restoring the Niagara Gorge and aid in the resurgence of the economies of Niagara Falls and northern Niagara County communities.

Let’s face it. The parkway is a goner, if not this year, then next. It’s great to imagine it actually being put to a productive use, protecting waterfront instead of cutting us off from it.

It’s been said that there are three kinds of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. We need a proactive leader in the first category who will reach across communities and unite us in such an undertaking.

James C. Hufnagel is a Wilson resident.