The International Joint Commission's new U.S. and Canadian members are planning a meeting in the "near future" to discuss Lake Ontario flooding and the performance of a controversial new lake management plan, IJC spokesman Frank Bevacqua said Wednesday.
The IJC's meeting announcement came amid multiple media reports that U.S. members of the IJC were arranging a meeting to call for the suspension of Plan 2014.
"IJC Commissioners will meet in the near future to consider additional potential flood relief measures, as well as the performance of Plan 2014," Bevacqua said in a statement. "Modification or suspension of Plan 2014 would be part of a longer-term process requiring the IJC Commissioners to reach consensus and the Governments of Canada and the United States to provide their concurrence.
Tuesday night, Greece Town Supervisor Bill Reilich posted on Facebook that he had learned, from U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, that the U.S. commissioners are planning the meeting to call for a return to the former water management regimen, known as Plan 1958DD.
"This has always been my goal, on behalf of all of our residents that have been suffering with rising waters and property damage since its inception," Reilich wrote.
But IJC Commissioner Robert Sisson said the meeting would focus on the "plight" of New York's Lake Ontario shoreline residents, and "what measures might be taken to provide relief now and into the future."
Sisson also pointed out Plan 2014 was preceded by 14 years of research and outreach, and involved multiple agencies and levels of government in the U.S. and Canada.
"The most immediate question is what can we do, with IJC consensus, to provide relief now. ... Modifying or replacing Plan 2014 entails a much longer timeline," Sisson said in an email.
Two other IJC commissioners, including newly-appointed U.S. chairwoman Jane Corwin, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Politicians across the state, including Collins and the state's top two Democrats — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer — have accused the IJC of mismanaging lake levels since the implementation of Plan 2014. That plan was adopted in December 2016, intending to modernize lake management and benefit coastal wetlands and wildlife.
The IJC's study on Plan 2014 found the plan would raise lake levels by an average of two to three inches, and require shoreline residents to spend, as a whole, roughly 13 percent more annually on shoreline infrastructure.
But during the plan's first year, lake levels rose to heights never seen since record-keeping began over a century ago, causing hundreds of millions in damages. The record-high water of the summer of 2017 was surpassed earlier this month, when the lake reached depths of over 249 feet — about three feet above average for this time of year.
Many shoreline residents and local politicians have also cast Plan 2014 as the source of the flooding.
“Since its implementation, the Lake Ontario shoreline community has experienced severe flooding which has led to a negative impact on the local economy and a decrease in property values," Collins said in a recent statement.
But to repeal or modify the plan, four of the six commissioners — including at least one Canadian — must sign off.
And it's currently unclear if even the U.S. commissioners would prefer to do away with Plan 2014, which was preceded by 16 years of research and outreach.
Corwin criticized the then-proposed plan while serving in the state Assembly, but since her appointment last month, has often declined to criticize the plan.
“I looked into that," Corwin said in Greece last month, referring to repealing the new regulation regimen. "Plan 2014 ... took several years to implement. It would take a long time to undo it.”
Corwin also pointed out the IJC affiliate that manages water regulation has set outflows well above the levels prescribed by Plan 2014. The lake outflows are currently at 2.7 million gallons per second — a level that was surpassed only once before, as the IJC sought to alleviate flooding during the summer of 2017.
“Plan 2014 isn’t the problem right now because they’re operating beyond that," Corwin said.
Meanwhile, our Northern neighbors appear to have even less appetite for repealing the plan. Few, if any, Canadian politicians have publicly criticized the plan, while Ontario- and Quebec-based media outlets have rarely reported outrage at the IJC.
What's more, the IJC's Canadian chair, Pierre Béland, has repeatedly defended Plan 2014 in media reports, saying no other water management plan could have averted flooding amid record-high inflows from Lake Erie.