Yesterday in the City of Buffalo, Supervisor Bill Reilich met with Vice President Pence, who was visiting Buffalo to talk about proposed tax cuts. In addition to his meeting with business executives and New York families for a discussion on tax reform, Vice President Pence also spent some time answering Supervisor Reilich’s questions regarding the IJC. Supervisor Reilich was following up on his letters and messages to the White House regarding his request that President Trump replace the current US members of the IJC board. Supervisor Reilich shared with Vice President Pence the importance of having at least one member if not all be residents of the South Shore so they would have direct experience and familiarity with the situation.
The International Joint Commission (IJC), a cooperative inter-governmental agency under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, has regulated Lake Ontario in a manner that has generally satisfied the collective needs of the various impacted interests in the US and Canada between 1959 and 2016. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, a new operational plan was initiated for Lake Ontario after a prolonged period of debate and evaluation. Plan 2014 was represented to be a minor enhancement of the prior plan, intended to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of an overly narrow range of Lake Levels.
The presentations and analysis that were published during the public coordination of the 2014 plan indicated that slightly higher and lower levels would be experienced and for longer durations, but the analysis demonstrated that the change would not be so great as to make existing homes uninhabitable or destroy public infrastructure. The Plan 2014 fact sheet from the IJC website indicated, “… compared to 1958DD, the increase in the maximum Lake Ontario level under Plan 2014 is six centimeters (2.4 inches)”.
The Town of Greece assessed the total value of the 974 privately held parcels along the shoreline and bay exceeds $227 million. These investments in real property have been made with critical evaluations for risk management reliant on the demonstrated lake level management capabilities of the Board of Control since 1960. Certainly, as you incorporate other lake shore communities these numbers will continue to rise and ultimately create a potential infrastructure catastrophe. The Town of Greece, along with other communities along the lake shore, took the necessary steps to pass a resolution urging the International Joint Commission to draft a new plan, one that would ensure the protection of all lake shore communities from the impending damage of Plan 2014. Unfortunately, the International Joint Commission approved and implemented Plan 2014, thus disregarding the concerns of lakeshore residents and businesses.
The current flood event, which began in early April of this year and continues today, has resulted in the destruction of several homes. Additionally, the level of risk of future recurrence remains unclear. The actions of the Commission with regard to the regulation of the level of Lake Ontario has resulted in substantial damage and associated adverse impacts in the Town of Greece and across the entire Southern shore of the Lake. The regulation of the Lake this spring has damaged hundreds of homes, displaced many people and has cost businesses and municipalities millions of dollars and has endangered thousands of people.
Since the introduction of the proposed Plan 2014, Supervisor Reilich has been outspoken against its passage. When the hearing was held here in Rochester in 2013, he stood before the IJC and testified against it and pointed out the hazards it could pose our lakeshore residents. As Greece Supervisor, he also stood with the Greece Town Board members and passed a resolution against Plan 2014 proposal. He strongly urged the IJC to retract Plan 2014 and draft a new plan; one that would ensure the safety and needs of all communities along the Lake Ontario Shoreline.
At the conclusion of the meeting with Vice President Pence, Supervisor Reilich was told that he would indeed be seeing action on replacing the current board members of the IJC. Supervisor Reilich has also been invited to speak to a Panel being organized by Senator Pam Helming. This event will be held in Wayne County, and he will present testimony on the Town of Greece’s experiences with the IJC, Sheen Housing and the application project. Also to be discussed during that meeting will be future plans and safeguards in the event that the Town of Greece is faced with similar conditions in the future.
Since flooding issues began, Supervisor Reilich has made it a priority to assist waterfront residents in every way possible. The time line of evens so far have included repeatedly reaching out to Governor Cuomo’s office for financial assistance for those who incurred damages due to the high water levels. He has also coordinated with the New York State Department of Financial Services for their Insurance RV to come to the Town of Greece and also coordinated with representatives from Sheen Housing and invited them to Greece Town Hall to assist lakefront residents in answering questions and filling out Lake Ontario Flood Recovery applications. Additionally, he worked with the Governor to locate and implement a water-filled dam structure. Furthermore, the Town of Greece DPW Facility provided sand bags to all waterfront residents. Over 250,000 sandbags have been distributed to date. Knowing that not only the folks in the Town of Greece, but all lakeshore communities, are being negatively affected by IJC Plan 2014, he created an official petition through the White House to overturn IJC Plan 2014. Recently, Supervisor Reilich and the Greece Town Board requested an official inquiry reviewing the steps that led up to the decision of the IJC to adopt Plan 2014 and its lack of timely response as conditions continue to result in rising waters and damages to our homeowners and local businesses. He has advocated in Washington, DC along with representatives from Niagara, Orleans, Ontario, Wayne, and Erie counties for the purposes of meeting with members of Congress, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about replacing Plan 2014 with one that ensures the livelihood of all lake shore residents and businesses.
“Since its launch, I have opposed the International Joint Commissions plan to raise the lake levels and advocated against its implementation. I will continue to do all I can to advocate for waterfront residents and provide resources to help them protect their property. I am taking every opportunity possible to help Town of Greece residents through these flooding events, and will continue to fight for new ways to protect shoreline properties”. said Supervisor Reilich.