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Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River pose concerns for IJC

Ray Sawhillv

The organization responsible for regulating water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River is holding a series of public hearings in upstate New York and Canada this week, presenting a new management plan. The International Joint Commission, or IJC, attracted criticism for its last draft of the plan, called Bv7, which aimed to alter water levels to decrease environmental damage around the Great Lake.

The newest version, called Plan 2014, aims to strike a compromise between the economic interests of harbor communities and environmental concerns. Tuesday in Rochester, about 100 locals weighing in on the conversation showed views are still split.

Cheryl Stephens, a property owner on the south shore of Lake Ontario, says shoreline properties will suffer under the new plan.

"We, the South Shore landowners and all the surrounding towns, would be adversely affected if the rules changed now," Stephens said. "We, residents, are the environment on the south shore of Lake Ontario."

Co-chairman of the Sierra Club's bi-national Great Lakes Committee, Wayne Howard, says the new plan must be put in place immediately to prevent further environmental degradation.

"Our committee's message today is simple," Howard said. "The time for study and planning is over, and the time for implementation is now. We call on the IJC to enact Plan 2014 as soon as possible."

Plan 2014 was supported by most of those in attendance at Wednesday's meeting in Oswego.

Bea Schermerhorn spoke on behalf of Alexandria Bay's marinas, says when levels drop toward the end of summer, it's the marinas that suffer.

"Recreational boating is tied very strongly to tourism, and vice versa and when the season is cut short by about a month and a half to two months, it takes a big chunk out of the local economy," said Schermerhorn.

But on Lake Ontario's southern shore the mood is different. Ed Leroux is president of Save Our Sodus, an organization dedicated to protecting the water quality in the Sodus Bay watershed. He says the changes in water levels would have a major impact on Sodus and its economy.

"The Heron town board and the residents of the sand bar have worked together to protect the environment by revised septic laws. Implementing higher water levels would greatly compromise the effectiveness of the new septic systems which represents a significant health and environment hazard," he said.

Several more hearings about Plan 2014 will be held through Friday. Comments are also accepted through the end of August.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail