As the overflowing Lake Ontario lashed homes along its southern shore last year, many homeowners lashed out at the new plan designed to govern the lake level, Plan 2014.
They blamed the plan and the group that created it, the International Joint Commission, or IJC, for the flooding even though Western New York’s only representative on the IJC’s Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence River Board and Plan 2014 critic Frank Sciremammano told News 8 then the flooding resulted from unprecedented spring rain.
Earlier this year, IJC leadership didn’t renew Sciremammano’s term on the board leaving lakeshore homeowners worried they’d be voiceless, but the board brought in Diane Kuehn, a professor at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.
Kuehn is a social scientist who studies humans relationships with the environment and has spent much much of her time analyzing tourism on the Great Lakes.
Here’s some Q&A between Adam Chodak and Kuehn:
Adam: So you’ve gotten to know the industry and many of the folks who live along the lake…
Kuehn: Absolutely, and I started about 30 years ago working for New York Sea Grant and I was the coastal tourism specialist for 12 years for Sea Grant and that really gave me the opportunity to visit different tourism destinations along the Great Lakes coastline in New York and to really get to know people.
Adam: So what kind of perspective do you think you bring to the board?
Kuehn: I think a perspective of working with people, communicating with people, and I am a social scientist so I study people for a living, but I think I bring that perspective of tourism and how people interact with lake environment through tourism and recreation.
Adam: Given what happened last year, there’s heightened concern along the southern shore. Does that lead to concern for you? How are you going into this knowing this exists out there right now?
Kuehn: I am concerned about it. I’m concerned about the potential in the future too. I think we have to make our communities as resilient as possible and we’re not there yet. I guess my concern is when is this going to happen again and are we prepared for it when it does happen again.
Adam: How do you go about working on that from your end?
Kuehn: From my job it’s difficult because I’m charged with looking at the outflow from Lake Ontario. I think what the board can do is connect community groups, specifically with helping communities with resiliency, like groups like New York Sea Grant, which was my roots, they do quite a bit with resiliency issues, they can work with communities on education and teaching people how to develop erosion control structures, preparing for future shoreline events and I think that’s going to be very important.
Adam: Folks in the Western New York area felt like with Frank they had a certain liaison if you will, someone who understood the area. Do you think you’ll be able to fill that void?
Kuehn: I certainly hope so. I’m eager to hear what people have going on with their properties. I’m always willing to answer questions, at least as far as I can at this time and I do want to get to know people more in the western region. I do live in the eastern basin area so I’m much more familiar with folks in that area, but I want to add on the western folks too.
Adam: Do you have an opinion one way or another with Plan 2014?
Kuehn: I think it’s done the best it can with trying to balance out all the different interests, but again the lake erosion is one of my concerns as we move ahead with Plan 2014, but I think it’s the best option we have. We’re trying to balance out navigation, lake shore properties, tourism, hydroelectric power. How to balance out all those interests? I don’t think there’s any one perfect way to do it unfortunately.
Adam: With Plan 2014, we are likely going to have more flooding, more damage and your thought is there are ways to prevent that…
Kuehn: Some of the properties are in really bad condition right now. I think it’s going to be key to communicate from someone who really knows what they’re talking about at this point.