New York state suing IJC over Lake Ontario water levels

Local News

IRONDEQUOIT, N.Y. (WROC) — New York state is suing the International Joint Commission for negligence regarding its regulation of Lake Ontario’s water levels.

The announcement was made at Silk O’Loughlin’s in Rochester Wednesday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by other federal, state, and local officials. The Governor’s office says that the lawsuit is a result of the IJC’s “mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels that caused catastrophic damage to shoreline communities.”

“The facts of the matter are plain: The IJC’s function is to manage the Lake Ontario water levels, and they failed — period. They have been wholly unresponsive and have taken no action to make the situation better,” Governor Cuomo said. “We will not shoulder the burden of the destruction that is a direct result of the IJC’s gross mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels, and the IJC needs to compensate New York for the severe damage to the homes and businesses along the shoreline. That’s what this lawsuit is all about.”

The IJC is a Canadian-American committee that is in charge of regulating water outflows and levels on Lake Ontario. The IJC has come under fire in recent years as Ontario has seen historically high water levels in 2017 and in 2019.

Silk O’Loughlin’s, where Wednesday’s lawsuit was announced, was one of the many businesses that was affected by rising waters and flooding. They were forced to close their business for periods of time in both 2017 and 2019.

Specifically, the complaint asserts the following causes of action:

  • Negligence: IJC breached its duty by failing to take sufficient steps to protect the interests of New York property owners on the Lake Ontario shoreline.
  • Nuisance: Based on the severe flooding that resulted from IJC’s mismanagement, IJC was or should have been substantially certain that its conduct would cause an invasion of the State’s interest in the use and enjoyment of its land.
  • Trespass: IJC failed to increase outflows from Lake Ontario to lower water levels and abate flooding, which constituted an invasion of property.

“Time and time again, Governor Cuomo has called on the IJC to put the safety and integrity of New York’s shoreline communities ahead of shipping interests,” said Basil Seggos, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner. And repeatedly, the IJC failed to act. New York State is making significant investments to improve the resiliency of homes and businesses along Lake Ontario. We are now demanding that the IJC do the responsible thing, and take action to safeguard our communities from high water.”

IJC officials released this statement Wednesday:

We are aware of the Governor’s announcement, but have not received formal notice of any action that may have been taken.

Meanwhile, Gov. Cuomo has allocated up to $20 million to assist homeowners impacted by record breaking flooding in 2019 through the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Flood Relief and Recovery program.

Homeowner application process will begin on October 1 and will close October 31. For more information on applying, and eligibility questions, visit this website.

“As our neighbors on the waterfront continue to experience devastating flooding year after year, we can no longer afford to wait and react — we must take action now to mitigate future damage and protect homeowners and businesses alike,” said Congressman Joe Morelle (D-25). “Thankfully, we have a Governor who recognizes that and is taking action to strengthen the resiliency of lakeside communities like ours. I’m grateful to Governor Cuomo for his partnership and dedication to supporting the needs of our community.”

Also present at Wednesday’s announcement was Green Town Supervisor Bill Relich, who was recently appointed to the IJC’s the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River (ILOSLR) Board.

The board’s main duty is to ensure that outflows from Lake Ontario meet the requirements of the IJC order, including the controversial Plan 2014. The board also has responsibilities to communicate with the public about about water levels and flow regulation.

Reilich has been critical of the IJC’s Plan 2014 in the past, lobbying against it and even starting a petition to overturn it.

“Lake Ontario is too economically and environmentally vital to our communities to ignore this devastating flooding and lack of accountability,” Relich said. “Thanks to Governor Cuomo’s support, we will fight every day to make the case for change and ensure we are protected from rising water levels in 2020 and for decades to come.”

In July, the IJC announced it would expand the membership of its board by adding to local members, one from each country, from municipalities on the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. IJC officials say the Canadian appointee is expected to be announced in “the near future.”

In a press release, IJC officials say they agree that the appointment of these local members to the board would be helpful, particularly in their efforts to document the human and social impacts of the recent flooding.

Reilich’s town of Greece has been hit particularly hard from Ontario’s flooding in recent years, especially along Edgemere Drive where police were forced to close the road due to flooding earlier this year.

The International Joint Commission was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters the two countries share. Its responsibilities include approving projects that affect water levels across the international boundary, such as the Moses-Saunders Dam, and investigating and reporting on issues of concern when asked by the governments of the two countries.

Full lawsuit:

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