For the second time in three years, New York State is sending resources to Lake Ontario communities dealing with significant flooding along the shoreline.
As it continues to do so though, the state is also looking at more long-term solutions. On a conference call Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, announced the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).
He said high water levels on the lake are the “new normal” and people should expect it to continue.
“Once you accept that premise, then it’s a fools errand to continually rebuild to the same standard only to have another flood that does the same damage.”
The initiative’s goal is to redesign the shoreline to make it more resilient but also do so in a way that spurs economic growth for the communities. He said a council, co-chaired by Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, will work with local governments to come up with projects.
“I think we can actually improve the economic advantage for the communities along Lake Ontario. It is a great asset. It is a great place to visit. Its a great place to fish. It is a great place to live and the floods are a problem today but I think we can actually find a silver lining in the storm cloud,” Cuomo said.
The governor pointed out in 2017, the state spent roughly $100 million in relief funding to the affected communities. It’s not clear how much damage there will be this year as the flooding has just started in earnest and the state has taken steps to try to mitigate the impact.
Cuomo did not say exactly how much Lake Ontario REDI would cost but he said he would rather spend a larger sum all at once. He said it would be significant and will require Legislature approval to fund.
As for when it will start, he said the state will begin meeting with local governments in the next couple of weeks about their visions.
“We can move as fast as the local governments can move but the long-term project requires thought and consultation,” Cuomo said.
The International Joint Commission which governs Great Lakes outflows, during a Tuesday visit to Western New York, said it doesn’t have enough evidence yet to say the high water levels are the “new normal” and not a multi-year anomaly. However, commissioners pointed out if it does decide to make changes to the plan which regulates Lake Ontario and Saint Lawrence River water levels, it would likely mean new regulations regarding where structures can be built.
The state said it has no plans to wait for the IJC to finish another study and is ready to act now. The Lake Ontario initiative will also apply to Niagara River and Saint Lawrence River shorelines.