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Wayne County leaders question if future plans are ready for Lake Ontario flooding

July 24, 2019 08:00 PM

LYONS, N.Y. (WHEC) — Wayne County leaders welcomed plans to fortify local shorelines against future high water incidents on Lake Ontario, but had plenty of questions about the future lake levels. Most importantly, just how high will the water levels actually get?

In Lyons on Wednesday, county officials looked over flood damage mitigation plans with engineering consultants engaged by the state and officials with the state’s Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, REDI. 

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The program was unveiled by Governor Andrew Cuomo in June, offering up to $300 million to address long term needs to fortify shoreline communities after the lake rose to record high levels in 2019, breaking the record that had been set just two years ago.

The plan was cheered in Sodus Point. The village struggled with flooding in both years, deploying arrays of sandbags, water-filled AquaDams, and dozens of pumps.

Permanent fortifications proposed for the village included plans for a new seawall to enclose and protect the Sand Point area and a completely new stormwater management system which the village has already had designed by an independent consultant. 

“Do you want to see pumps in the streets?” asked Sodus Point Mayor Dave McDowell. “We will take care of the water underground, they will be permanent structures, hopefully, they have pumps in them. And they won’t be temporary pumps. They will be pumps that are fueled by natural gas or electricity so we can just turn them on when necessary.”

Proposed projects for Sodus Point also included the placement of boulders or riprap along the shoreline to prevent erosion and protect properties, and the extension of plant-covered sand dunes along the lake. Such dunes already exist along some stretches of beach on the lake and those areas stood out for not needing the protection of sandbags or Aqua Dams during the 2019 high water event. 

“Those dunes are going to have to be higher,” exclaimed Sodus Point homeowner Maxine Appleby. “We really need to protect that beach and we need to protect the homeowners that sit on the lakeshore.”

The exploration of projects and their parameters did draw worried questions about exactly what level of water lakeshore resiliency projects might have to repel. 

In the 2019 flooding, water levels on Lake Ontario set a new record of more than 249 feet above sea level. During previous REDI sessions, officials indicated that future shoreline preparations might need to anticipate the water reaching as high at 257 feet. 

The state’s representatives and consultants said they remained uncertain what future levels to predict and plan for. 

That brought exasperation from local leaders. 

“You’re wasting your time if you’re building something if you don’t know the height of the water and where it’s going to be at,” exclaimed Huron Town Supervisor Laurie Crane. “You’re wasting taxpayer dollars.”

“Why would New York State sign off on this plan without knowledge of what that level was going to be?” asked McDowell. “That’s completely irresponsible. If this were corporate America and that happened, people would lose their jobs and rightly so. The governor should never have signed off on this plan without knowledge of that number.”

State officials described lake level forecasting as a work in progress and a “parallel” line of inquiry as the REDI process tries to prepare for higher water.  

“We have to take things a step by step,” said engineering consultant Jennifer Oliva.  “I think as we gather more data and we get more guidance. We have multiple teams and they’re looking at it from the state level and the engineering side. I think once we get through with that evaluation will be able to provide better guidance.”

The REDI program was scheduled to deliver its findings, and its growing list of proposed projects, to the state in September.

Credits

Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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