Citing both erosion and devastating effects to its fishing and tourism business, county legislators from Niagara and Orleans are opposing an International Joint Commission plan to raise water levels in Lake Ontario. A proposal by the commission calls for raising and lowering water levels in the lake by as much as 9-12 inches to restore balance to the lake and maintain wetlands. But county officials say the plan, which would alter water levels for the first time since the 1950s, could be devastating.
“This changes our water levels to higher highs and lower lows,” said Dave Godfrey, R-Wilson, Niagara County Legislature deputy majority leader, who issued a statement about the issue on May 31. “This means much more erosion and lake-bank damage. And also, it’s going to affect our harbor drastically especially in the fishing season when we have lower waters, our boats won’t even be able to get out into the lake.”
The legislature is inviting residents to learn more about the plan and voice their opinion at a 6 p.m. public hearing on June 5 in at the Olcott Fire Co. on Lockport-Olcott Road.
County representatives serving as delegates to the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance (NORA) are drafting a measure to officially opposing the BV7 plan at its meeting Tuesday.
According to information on the IJC website, the plan is intended to prepare for conditions that are wetter and drier than those on which the current approach was based. Plan Bv7, the IJC’s proposed regulation plan, is designed to perform under more realistic water supplies and incorporates practical experience gained from 50 years of operation under many different water supply and ice conditions.
The plan was drafted based on the results of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study, which the IJC says evaluated over 400 environmental performance indicators. It also takes into consideration the effects to buildings and shore protection structures, historical erosion rates as well as the impact on recreational boating estimated from an inventory of all marinas, yacht clubs and launch ramps, as well as surveys of boaters and charter and tour boat operators.
But Niagara County legislators are concerned, saying the plan fails to make realistic projections about storm surges, which could pose serious problem for the Lower Niagara River and Eighteenmile Creek. Godfrey also cited the potential for substantial economic impact on the fishing and boating industry critical to port communities like Wilson, Olcott, and Point Breeze in the town of Carlton.
“The real concern is the loss of property, the decline of property values, and a potential loss of more than $30 million in sportfishing and sailing revenues that come into Niagara and Orleans counties,” Godfrey said.
“We want to be good stewards of the environment, but this measure is destructive to our communities‚ futures,” he said.
The two counties are working with state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, who has been meeting with residents and businesses for several months to spread awareness about the plan.