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Clayton hopes high water levels won't sink tourism

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)
The downtown public docks in Clayton with parts of the Riverwalk submerged.

As residents continue to deal with the high water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, businesses along the shore are preparing for the all important Memorial Day weekend. One town along the river is waiting to see if the weekend will be an indicator of how tourism will be this season.

Emilie Cardinaux makes nautical themed jewelry at her shop The Golden Cleat, which opened last week. A number of shoreline properties in downtown Clayton are running pumps around the clock to get water out of their basements.

“I’m not sure how effective it is because the water keeps coming back in,” Cardinaux said.

She rents the residence next door.

“There’s currently still almost a foot of water in that basement and I had to take everything out," Cardinaux said. "It's been stressful. We've had to spend a lot of extra time dealing with the flooding that we could've spent opening our store."

The St. Lawrence River is behind the shop, submerging some of the town's Riverwalk.

“I’m looking at this dock line, it’s going over the top of the dock and usually it’s a three foot drop," Cardinaux said.

But boats and ships are still passing through.

“If a boat goes by, the wake absolutely pushes the water right into the basement," Cardinaux said. "People don’t realize how much impact that has when they go fast in their boats.”

Sisters Linda and Sandy McCarthy tie their Scout boat to the downtown public docks. 

“Today, it’s pretty choppy, and you have to watch out for logs and floaters and things in the water,” Linda McCarthy said.

“And it helps if you know the shoals,” her sister added.  

Mike Hooson is with the Clayton Chamber of Commerce.

“A shoal would be a rock formation in the water," Hooson said. "Keep your eye and be familiar with where the shoals would be because something that might be above water is now submerged.”

Hooson said this is going to be a test over the Memorial Day weekend to see how much the high water affects boaters and tourists.

"We have such a short season up here that having this happen in the peak tourist season can really put hardship on some of the local businesses," Hooson said. "This is the highest I have ever seen it. Probably the highest this dock has ever experienced."

He said all he can do now is hope the rain stops, the sun comes out, and people know the town is still open.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.