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IJC’s public comment period for new lake-river regulation plan ends Aug. 30

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The clock is ticking, with less than two weeks left for citizens to comment on a proposal that could change how Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River water levels are regulated.

Based on public feedback submitted by Aug. 30, the International Joint Commission is expected to make some final adjustments to its new regulation proposal before seeking concurrence with the U.S. and Canadian governments.

So far, the general consensus surrounding the IJC’s latest pitch to update its half-century-old flow plan appears to be split — with eastern and southern lakeshore residents arguing they are the only victims under this scenario and upper-lake and river communities largely embracing the new plan’s projected environmental benefits and prospects of an extended boating season.

“It’s better for the environment and better for boating,” said Dalton P. Foster, technical adviser and past president of the International Water Levels Coalition. “The existing regulation plan has saved them (south shore property owners) billions of dollars at other people’s expense and the environment’s expense.”

If IJC’s “Plan 2014” proposal is approved by the U.S. and Canadian federal governments, Mr. Foster said, he believes that the lake and river communities will see a 40 percent increase in wetland habitats within the next 50 years.

Because the proposed plan follows more closely a natural fluctuation pattern — meaning there is a greater seasonal variability in water levels yet the “draining” of water would be more gradual — Mr. Foster also expects the recreational boating period to be extended by about six weeks into the spring and fall seasons.

Coastal-property owners along the lake’s south and eastern shores, however, are opposing any change to the existing plan — 1958-DD — that aims to keep water levels relatively stable within a 4-foot range.

For more than 50 years, they argue, shoreline-property owners have made substantial investments in their waterfront homes and businesses on the assumption that 1958-DD was here to stay.

“The consequences of Plan 2014? It’s going to chase people out of their homes here,” said Sandy Pond cottage owner James Jerome, an outspoken critic of Plan 2014 and its precursor, Plan Bv7.

In essence, Plan 2014 is Bv7 with ‘trigger levels” that would serve as high and low cut-off points to reduce coastal property damage.

Unlike the existing plan — which tries to keep lake levels at a minimum of 243.3 feet and 247.3 feet at the highest point — Plan 2014’s trigger levels vary greatly depending on the season, from as high as 248.13 feet to a minimum of 243.14 feet.

St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario flows are moderated through the release of water at the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Massena and Cornwall.

Mr. Jerome said: “248 (feet) would wipe us out. It’s simply not workable. And they never included us in the process. It’s almost criminal that we were kept in the dark about this. Our officials were not included in the talks.”

According to an IJC economic impact study, the annual cost of shoreline protection and maintenance is estimated to increase by $2.2 million.

The same study projects an average annual gain of $5.2 million for hydropower production — the foundation of a conspiracy theory that Plan 2014 was drafted solely to benefit the hydroelectric dam.

Lana Pollack, head of the U.S. section of the IJC, had denounced this conspiracy theory but acknowledged that hydropower would benefit the most.

“This plan wasn’t designed to advantage NYPA,” the New York Power Authority, Ms. Pollack told the Times in July prior to a public hearing held in Alexandria Bay. “But it is true that NYPA comes out a winner.”

In addition to the projected increase in shoreline protection expenses, Mr. Jerome and other waterfront-property owners estimate that the flood insurance costs for coastal properties will double — with some expecting as much as a tenfold increase — under Plan 2014.

Opponents also argue that higher lake levels will lead to municipal septic system failures, causing sewage to flow into the lake.

Mr. Jerome and others have been “surrendering” house keys to the IJC and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office in protest of the new regulation proposal.

However, Mr. Foster said he believes some of these concerns can be addressed through the “adaptive management strategy” that the IJC plans to include in its final recommendation to the two federal governments.

Unlike 50-some years ago when the original plan was drafted, he said, the IJC has the scientific information and technology to monitor lake and river levels in real time, study the dynamics of these bodies of water and “predict what’s going to happen in various situations.”

For example, Mr. Foster said, regulators can calculate wind vectors — rather than simply responding to changes in lake and river levels — and adjust water levels accordingly to effectively minimize property damage associated with high waves.

“I would support Plan 2014 because it’s an improvement,” Mr. Foster said. “It’s a step forward.”

To learn more about Plan 2014 or to submit a comment online, visit: http://wdt.me/Nzy57R.

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