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Lake Ontario flooding hearing reveals frustrations with Plan 2014

Payne Horning
At the Mexico Academy High School, Assemblyman Bob Oaks, State Sen. Tom O'Mara, State Sen. Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Will Barclay listen to testimony about the flooding along Lake Ontario this year.

At a special state hearing in Oswego County Tuesday, government officials admitted that there's effectively no way to prevent Lake Ontario from once again reaching the record high levels seen this year. In fact, they said it's bound to happen again. But, they think there may be ways to reduce the amount of damage the flooding caused along the shoreline.

The policy that the International Joint Commission (IJC) uses to regulate Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River's water levels, called Plan 2014, frequently came under the spotlight Tuesday. Stephen Durrett with the International IJC Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Board, which executes the policy, tried to defend it, saying record rainfall was to blame for this year's flooding. But a crowd made up mostly of property owners booed and laughed at the suggestion. 

"Whatever plan we would have had in place we would have had the same conditions," Durrett said. "I believe we would have had the same conditions this year no matter what."

The legislators at the hearing were also skeptical. They repeatedly asked why the IJC board overseeing water levels did not have more discretion to lower the lake before May since the water was higher than normal months earlier. Frank Sciremammano, another member of the IJC, blamed that on Plan 2014. He said the policy prevents the organization from increasing outflows before certain levels are reached.

"We could have a perfect forecast a month in advance that we are going to exceed the trigger," Sciremammano said. "We're not allowed to do anything."

Oswego County State Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Heuvelton) says the IJC board needs the authority to take preventive flooding measures sooner. And Oswego County Assemblyman Will Barlcay (R-Pulaski) says more local representatives on the IJC board might help the situation.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.