By GORDON BLOCK, JUNE 1, 2017
The head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation echoed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s criticisms of the International Joint Commission, stating the binational board needed to be more nimble and focused more on property damage than shipping.
However, Basil Seggos defended the commission’s Plan 2014, which regulates water levels on Lake Ontario.
“I see what’s going on here as being separate from Plan 2014,” Mr. Seggos said, during an interview Wednesday on WCNY-FM’s Capitol Pressroom program. “These are record water levels, and we would see these conditions happen even under the old regime.”
He later told host Susan Arbetter that the criticisms of the Lake Ontario water level regulations were “a bit of a red herring.”
Mr. Seggos latched onto comments from the IJC last week that said increasing outflows beyond what already did would create an unsafe current that would halt shipping.
“The decision making that has to happen under any plan needs to be nimble, and needs to take into account the interest of people’s lives, and put that over the interests of the shipping industry,” Mr. Seggos said.
Outflows at the lake have been at 10,200 cubic meters per second since May 24.
Frank L. Bevacqua, public information officer for the International Joint Commission, said in 1993 the IJC increased flows to 10,900 cubic meters per second for two 24-hour test periods per week. The increase stopped shipping during the test periods, and only removed about an inch of water level from the lake over three weeks.
Mr. Bevacqua said increasing current outflows further would bring shipping to a stop.
“The board must consider all of the human impacts of its decisions and it is a difficult balancing act,” he said. “There are jobs in New York and the Great Lakes region that depend on Seaway deliveries. And increasing the flows would provide only a degree of relief to Lake Ontario.”
Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, said the effects of slowing or stopping shipping on Lake Ontario would hurt communities across the Great Lakes, even though the increased outflows may have a limited effect.
“For the government to create additional economic harm to additional states by closing shipping down, simply exacerbates this crisis and spreads it farther west and causes negative job effects,” he said.
Mr. Seggos’ comments followed those by Gov. Cuomo in Monroe County on Monday, who said the IJC “blew it” with their “series of blunders” in handling the flooding on Lake Ontario.
“The people of the state of New York are getting the short end of the stick, right?” he said. “Their homes are getting flooded.”
The governor’s comments drew a response on Wednesday from a collection of environmental groups, who asked the governor to not scapegoat Plan 2014.
“While it is expedient to blame Plan 2014 for the recent flooding caused by heavy rainfall and snowmelt, suggesting regulators return to outdated, unscientific water levels would only exacerbate the situation,” said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We are asking our leaders to focus on better management of Plan 2014 rather than misleading the public and eroding its confidence in the International Joint Commission.”
Other groups signed on to the news release were Save the River, Audubon New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and The Nature Conservancy.
Seggos’ comments on WCNY can be heard at http://wdt.me/seggos-wcny.