The International Joint Commission will hold a public hearing tonight in Alexandria Bay on its latest proposal to reverse its 1958 plan to control Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River water levels. The North Country needs to speak out to balance the onslaught of negative comments made at the first three public hearings along the south shore of Lake Ontario.
The commission has been soliciting input on Plan 2014 through a series of hearings. The first was held Sunday in Lockport followed by one in Ontario on Monday and Williamson on Tuesday.
Tonights hearing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at Bonnie Castle Resort and Marina, 31 Holland St., Alexandria Bay. The remaining public hearings will be held tomorrow in Montreal and Friday in Cornwall, Ontario.
Its important for the IJC to hear feedback on Plan 2014 from residents along the St. Lawrence River and the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario. The proposal would allow the IJC to revise its current water management plan by introducing trigger levels based upon seasonal fluctuations.
The plan calls for the creation of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, which would replace the current Board of Control. According to information on the IJCs website, Plan 2014 would authorize this new board to deviate from the regulation plan releases when Lake Ontario reaches trigger levels, with different high and low triggers for each quarter-month that reflect the seasonal nature of water supplies and lake levels. When Lake Ontario is within those trigger levels, releases will be made according to Plan 2014, with the same sort of adjustments for river flows that are used now to manage ice, the Ottawa River spring flood and shipping emergencies.
Supporters have said the plan will reverse some of the environmental damage done to Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River. One of the IJCs goals with the plan is to restore wetlands destroyed over the decades as a result of the regulation of water levels. Proponents have said the plan also would improve the ecological quality of the waterways and restore fish populations that have suffered from the changes resulting from plan 1958D.
However, detractors along the south shore of the lake are concerned about increased flooding that they claim will occur if water levels are permitted to rise beyond todays control points. People who own waterfront properties see Plan 2014 as a troubling proposal as they worry about possible costs to mitigate flood damage.
While no one deserves a flood, residents who are complaining generally built their houses too close to the water ignoring the historical fluctuations of the water while hoping that the IJC would continue to damage the environment by keeping water away from their front stoops. Since the 1950s, the IJCs water management plans encouraged them to build too close to the edge of the water.
But there is no doubt that 1958D damaged the waterways. Modifying regulations to more closely match the natural flow of the water and allowing a wider range of levels based on the seasons is the best way to restore Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River to previous conditions.
The new plan proposed by the IJC takes into consideration the notion that homeowners shouldnt be left to fight the rising waters alone. Plan 2014 will save land owners $25.2 million a year in mitigation costs, slightly less than the savings enjoyed under 1955D of $27.4 million.
There are plenty of interests at stake in revising the water management strategy. The river supports a robust shipping channel, which funnels millions of tons of goods from the heartland of America to world markets. New Yorkers across the state and especially in Massena depend upon the low cost, environmental friendly electric power the control plan generates. Tourism prospers with better water level management and the environment depends on an enhanced diversity of the shoreline. The new plan puts people, their jobs and their environment first.
Tonights hearing is an excellent way let IJC officials know that lake and river interests in the North Country endorse Plan 2014 as the best way to remedy decades of neglect. Tonights testimony should provide an ample support for the IJC to adopt plan 2014. That way we can all work together to make ensure that Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River become even cleaner and more lively waterways that benefit everyone.