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Congressman Owens says Cuomo administration “noncommittal” on new water levels plan

Jamie Henderson

The new water levels proposal for the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario has garnered some criticism from a group of state lawmakers along the lake's southern shore. This week they asked the governor to oppose the plan.

Last week, Congressman Bill Owens came out in favor of the proposal and said he'd ask for Governor Andrew Cuomo's support. Both Owens and environmental advocates say the opposition's arguments aren't based on the facts of the new plan.

The International Joint Commission's water levels proposal, called BV7, calls for more natural fluctuations in the levels of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, with higher highs and lower lows.

Congressman Bill Owens, speaking at the offices of Save the River in Clayton, where he was meeting with the environmental advocates yesterday, said he met with Cuomo's staff since coming out in support of the proposal.

Owens says he pushed the administration to support the plan, but he called Cuomo's staff “noncommittal.”

"They indicated to me that they were still considering the issue, but hopefully in the near term would be moving forward with their position," Owens said. "They were not going to indicate to me exactly what direction they were going."

Owens also shared his concern over the request by some state lawmakers that the governor oppose the new, more environmentally-friendly plan. They cite worries about flooding and property damage. But Owens says he's confident that science is on his side of the issue.

"Well, I think that what we again have to be careful of, and we had this discussion during the meeting, is making sure that everybody's operating from the same set of facts and science," he said. "And I think that if that's how the governor reviews this, and not in a political way, then I think he'll reach the same conclusion I have."

Lee Willbanks is Save the River's new incoming director. He echoed Owens's perspective that the opposition's letter to the governor indicates a misunderstanding of the water levels issue.

"They use a tremendous amount of hyperbole that would suggest that on an annual, ongoing basis, their constituents are going to be faced with high water the likes of which they've never seen, when in fact, that's simply not the case," he said. "The number 2.4 inches has been thrown out as if that's the annual high above any high we've seen. Um, that's once in a hundred years."

The International Joint Commission is accepting comments on the plan until the end of this week.