Niagara County Extends State of Emergency for 30 Days

Water levels still rising for Lake Ontario

Tom Puckett
May 19, 2017 - 6:39 pm

Olcott, NY (WBEN) Niagara County officials will extend a State of Emergency, originally set to expire Saturday, for an additional 30 days, as water levels in Lake Ontario continue to climb and concerns remain about dangers from submerged hazards on the lake, unstable shoreline banks, and ongoing flooding issues.

Emergency Services Director Jonathan Schultz indicated that paperwork extending the State of Emergency for an additional 30 days will be filed Saturday.

Legislator David Godfrey, R-Wilson, who chairs the Legislature’s Community Safety and Security Committee, was briefed on the plan, and noted that emergency orders—currently a 500-foot “no wake” zone—would be extended in five-day increments until the crisis had passed. He also aimed criticism at the International Joint Commission’s decisions earlier in the year to not let out sufficient water from dams on the St. Lawrence River, which has helped exacerbate the increase in lake levels. The IJC has recently indicated it may finally begin releasing water. “Extending the state of emergency is essential to ensure our municipalities and especially our volunteers are reimbursed for all the hours and materials which have and will continue to be exhausted as we fight the damages caused by Plan 2014,” Godfrey said earlier today. “Although the IJC is saying they will let some water out in the next week or so, the reality is they cannot without increasing the flooding down river and in Montreal. Until the downstream water subsides, which could be weeks, I believe we will continue to have record breaking high water and more erosion.”

Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, said he was closely watching the impact of the high lake levels on the local sportfishing and tourism industries. “We’re seeing large amounts of debris, including parts of docks, washing up on shore. These navigation hazards are caused by the IJC’s tampering with lake levels,” Syracuse said. “There are still a lot of folks coming out, but we’ve seen a significant drop over comparable periods last year—and that really hurts the economies of little communities like Olcott, Wilson, Oak Orchard, and so on.” Syracuse urged boaters to use extra caution while fishing in Lake Ontario waters. Syracuse also noted that he’s urging state and federal officials to do more to secure resources to help residents losing shoreline and suffering the effects of flooding in their homes. “For the people whose lives are being upended, whose homes are in jeopardy, this is a disaster,” Syracuse said. Syracuse did note that the State Emergency Management Office had deployed local Army National Guard and Air National Guard troops to assist with sandbagging operations, and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office had been supplying prisoner labor to help with the task—and that these efforts had bolstered robust turnout from community volunteers. “Everyone—fire companies, local youth, neighbors, they’re all pitching in, and they will continue to do so, but at some point, they need relief, whether that’s federal and state resources, or the lake levels dropping,” Syracuse said.

Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville, did note that the state government, in addition to, under terms of the State of Emergency, providing equipment and supply loans to the county, was also sending in experts again this weekend to help local property owners file insurance claims. “We’d like to see some direct aid, but we’re glad to note that the state Department of Financial Services will be making their Emergency Response Mobile Command Center available again this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Olcott Fire Company,” Burmaster said. “This will go a long way toward helping property owners recoup some of their loss, although I’m not sure how you recover lost shoreline.”

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