Continued rise in water levels, public safety fears drive decision
By Christian W. Peck
Niagara County Public Information Officer
Niagara County officials will extend a state of emergency, originally set to expire Saturday, for an additional 30 days, as water levels in Lake Ontario continue to climb and concerns remain about dangers from submerged hazards on the lake, unstable shoreline banks, and ongoing flooding issues. Emergency Services Director Jonathan Schultz indicated paperwork extending the state of emergency for an additional 30 days will be filed Saturday. A map prepared by Schultz details county operations in response to the high lake levels. (See below.)
Legislator David Godfrey, R-Wilson, who chairs the legislature’s community safety and security committee, was briefed on the plan, and noted emergency orders – currently a 500-foot “no wake” zone – would be extended in five-day increments until the crisis had passed. He also aimed criticism at the International Joint Commission’s decisions earlier in the year to not let out sufficient water from dams on the St. Lawrence River, which has helped exacerbate the increase in lake levels. The IJC has recently indicated it may finally begin releasing water.
“Extending the state of emergency is essential to ensure our municipalities and especially our volunteers are reimbursed for all the hours and materials which have and will continue to be exhausted as we fight the damages caused by Plan 2014,” Godfrey said Friday. “Although the IJC is saying they will let some water out in the next week or so, the reality is they cannot without increasing the flooding down river and in Montreal. Until the downstream water subsides, which could be weeks, I believe we will continue to have record-breaking high water and more erosion.”
Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said he was closely watching the impact of the high lake levels on the local sportfishing and tourism industries.
“We’re seeing large amounts of debris, including parts of docks, washing up on shore. These navigation hazards are caused by the IJC’s tampering with lake levels,” Syracuse said. “There are still a lot of folks coming out, but we’ve seen a significant drop over comparable periods last year – and that really hurts the economies of little communities like Olcott, Wilson, Oak Orchard, and so on.”
Syracuse urged boaters to use extra caution while fishing in Lake Ontario waters. He also noted he’s urging state and federal officials to do more to secure resources to help residents losing shoreline and suffering the effects of flooding in their homes.
“For the people whose lives are being upended, whose homes are in jeopardy, this is a disaster,” Syracuse said.
He did note the State Emergency Management Office had deployed local Army National Guard and Air National Guard troops to assist with sandbagging operations, and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office had been supplying prisoner labor to help with the task – and that these efforts had bolstered robust turnout from community volunteers.
“Everyone – fire companies, local youth, neighbors, they’re all pitching in, and they will continue to do so, but at some point they need relief, whether that’s federal and state resources, or the lake levels dropping,” Syracuse said. Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville, did note the state government, under terms of the state of emergency, is providing equipment and supply loans to the county, was also sending in experts again this weekend to help local property owners file insurance claims.
“We’d like to see some direct aid, but we’re glad to note that the state department of financial services will be making their emergency response mobile command center available again this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Olcott Fire Co.,” Burmaster said. “This will go a long way toward helping property owners recoup some of their loss, although I’m not sure how you recover lost shoreline.”
A pair of state lawmakers whose districts include long stretches of the Lake Ontario shoreline also weighed in, vowing to continue working to obtain resources for Niagara County’s residents and county and municipal governments battling the lake. State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, who was in contact with county officials Thursday and Friday about the extension of the state of emergency, said he and his staff remain heavily focused on the lakeshore flooding issue, and that he was working to allay the concerns expressed by local elected officials.
“I’ve seen firsthand the devastation the flooding has left behind as it continues to impact residents, business owners and critical infrastructure across our local governments,” Ortt said. “I’ll continue to work with my colleagues at the local, state and federal level to ensure public safety and to secure financial assistance for individuals and communities bearing the brunt of this horrific flooding.”
His colleague in the State Legislature’s lower house agreed.
“During this very challenging time, I would like to applaud the efforts of local county and town officials and our dedicated volunteer fire service members for their continued cooperation combating this devastating situation, occurring along the southern shore of Lake Ontario,” Assemblyman Mike Norris, R-Lockport, said. “I will continue to work tirelessly with state officials to provide much-needed assistance to our community.”
Meanwhile, Newfane Supervisor Tim Horanburg, whose town has been hard-hit by flooding and erosion from the lake waters, said Newfane – the town that includes the hamlet of Olcott -would continue to work with county and state officials to ensure resources could get to lakeshore residents.
“The Olcott Fire Co. has served as a kind of rally point, playing host to the county sandbagging operations, the financial services mobile command center, and for state and federal officials coming to see the damage to our lakeshore first-hand,” Horanburg said. “Newfane and Olcott will continue to provide a staging ground and a central community point where we can all come together for as long as we’re needed. We just hope that’s not a lot longer for any of us.”
CLEVELAND, Ohio – A security officer fired a gun Thursday during a large fight in the city’s Hough neighborhood, Cleveland police said. A group was fighting at an apartment complex on the 9200 block of Hough Avenue, just west of East 93rd Street, Cleveland police spokesman Det. Reginald Lanton said. Gunshots were exchanged during the fight, and a security officer also fired, Lanton said. No one was struck by gunfire.
Police did not say what caused the security officer to shoot. No additional information was immediately available Thursday evening.
This post will be updated if more details are released.
President Trump, end your shortsighted attack on the Great Lakes: Howard A. Learner and Mary Gade (Opinion)
Howard A. Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.Howard A. Learner
CHICAGO, Illinois — President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in Ohio and several Great Lakes states, but he and his U.S. EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, are assaulting Great Lakes protection and restoration. They’re seeking to slash funding for the sensible Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million annually to zero. They’re rumored to be considering closing the U.S. EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago, which includes the Great Lakes National Program Office, and transferring its staff to Kansas. They’re rolling back Clean Water Act standards that protect safe, clean drinking water. What are they thinking? This tomfoolery is a head-scratcher, criticized by both Republican and Democratic leaders. EPA Administrator Pruitt says he wants to get “back to basics.”  What could be more basic than protecting the Great Lakes?
The Great Lakes are a global gem. They contain the planet’s largest fresh water supply (21 percent), provide drinking water for 40 million people, provide a rich aquatic habitat and ecosystem, support a $7 billion annual fishing industry, and offer lakefront and recreational opportunities for millions of people.
Mary Gade managed the Great Lakes National Program Office under President George W. Bush.Mary Gade
The Great Lakes are our great natural treasure. Military analysts say future wars will be fought over water. Chicagoans, Hoosiers, Michiganders, Minnesotans, Ohioans and Cheeseheads all recognize the remarkable value of our fresh water largesse. We can’t afford to mess it up. Why put this at risk? First, the Trump administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget would apparently eliminate funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and other bipartisan senators, representatives, governors and mayors are urging President Trump to reverse course. They understand voters’ strong support for the Great Lakes.
The short stopgap Fiscal Year 2017 budget just approved by Congress continues this Great Lakes program at the full $300 million. The administration’s proposed FY 18 budget (starting Oct. 1) does not. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a practical program that has supported more than 3,000 projects to keep the lakes clean, preserve shorelines, restore wetlands and protect safe clean drinking water.
- The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments and Western Reserve Land Conservancy received funding for agricultural watershed management projects that will help reduce harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and otherwise improve water quality.
- The Cleveland Metroparks and others received funding to help protect the lakes from dangerous invasive species.
- EPA scientists crisscross the lakes in the Lake Guardian and the Mudpuppy research vessels, gathering water and air quality monitoring data essential to determining safe drinking water supplies and potential health risks that warrant beach closures.
Second, the Trump administration’s rumored plans to close the U.S. EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago, which oversees the largest freshwater body in the world, is tone-deaf and foolish. The EPA’s national Great Lakes Program and experienced staff are in Chicago. The reported plan would transfer staff to the Region 7 Office in Lenexa, Kansas, as the new center for EPA’s Great Lakes protection work and team. Really.
When the Enbridge pipeline broke and spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River, would EPA’s emergency team have responded more quickly from Lenexa, Kansas, than from Chicago? Will Kansas-based staff better deal with algal blooms in Lake Erie and contaminated drinking water in East Chicago; Flint, Michigan; and Toledo? The Trump administration suggests that consolidating offices will save some coin. That’s penny-wise and pound-foolish, just like the flawed choice to seek short-term cost savings that resulted in the costly Flint contaminated water tragedy. Third, EPA Administrator Pruitt is rushing to roll back clean water standards that protect safe drinking water and preserve fish and wildlife habitat.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center commissioned 12 focus groups of Trump voters in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. While they didn’t like regulatory paperwork, these voters solidly support regulations to protect safe clean water as common sense. They understand that pollution upstream or next-door can contaminate their drinking water. They like swimming in clean lakes and enjoy playing on nice beaches. Some remember when raw industrial sewage polluted our lakes before the Clean Water Act was passed and implemented. They didn’t vote for a rollback. Good policy is good politics. This shortsighted attack on the Great Lakes and safe clean drinking water is bad policy. The public and many political leaders know better. The battle for Great Lakes protection is well worth fighting and winning, but this battle shouldn’t have to be fought. President Trump, it’s time to step back and reconsider.
Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a Midwest-based public interest organization. Mary Gade served as the U.S. EPA Region 5 administrator and Great Lakes National Program manager from 2006 to 2008.
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- ^ in Ohio and several Great Lakes states (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ U.S. EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago, (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ “back to basics.” (www.epa.gov)
- ^ Related: President Trump snubs Great Lakes voters in trying to kill lakes restoration – Thomas Suddes (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ U.S. Congress will maintain Great Lakes funding but later fights loom with Trump (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ continues this Great Lakes program at the full $300 million (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ dangerous invasive species (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ Documentary ‘Making Waves: Battle for the Great Lakes’ looks at invasives species (see trailer) (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ Ohio Sens. Portman, Brown lead congressional delegation demanding U.S. EPA office be saved (www.cleveland.com)
- ^ here (secure3.convio.net)