Stay above the potential rising tide
WILSON VILLAGE, NY – It’s hard to forget the images from 2017 and 2019. Historic Lake Ontario water levels pouring onto the shore of Niagara County and beyond.
Between the 2017 and 2019 floods, the damage cost to the state alone was over $6 million. On average, homeowners suffered damages of $95,000. Could there be relief on the way? There is finally federal funding for a study on coastal resilience, offering a glimmer of hope.
A perfect day in Wilson and a marina full of boats. A radical contrast with a few years back.
“I don’t think anyone saw 2017 coming,” Wilson Village Mayor Arthur Lawson said.
Lawson was one of them. He had just taken office, when Lake Ontario reached historic levels, taking over the shoreline, and more.
“The water’s probably gone over a foot over the sidewalk here,” Lawson pointed out from the dock to the parking lot.
The devastation seen that year, and again in 2019, has certainly not been forgotten.
But, Lawson says he offered lessons and created a more tight-knit community.
“Our businesses are open, they’re strong, they’re thriving,” Lawson said. “That’s the most important piece of our puzzle now is making sure it stays that way,” Lawson said.
There is certainly support for another way in the works.
In April, a fight for federal funding that began in 2018 came to fruition. The Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Study received half a million dollars this year. Another $600,000 is planned for next year. The total cost of the four-year study is estimated at $10.5 million. The Great Lakes states must provide 25% of this sum.
“We want to know more about the future so that we can be more proactive,” said Dave Schulenburg, head of the planning division of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
As Dave Schulenburg, the head of the planning branch of the US Army Corps of Engineers, explains, we are made up of the eight Great Lakes states, as well as NOAA, USGS, FEMA and the USEPA. Together, take a peek at more than 5,200 miles of shoreline along the five Great Lakes and their connecting channels.
“The state of science of coastal resilience along the Great Lakes coast is well below the state of science on the Atlantic and Pacific coast,” said Dave Schulenburg, planning division chief of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
At stake is a maritime economy valued at $17.3 billion, which includes 293,000 jobs (NOAA 2014). A fishing and recreation economy estimated at $14.3 billion, commercial at $55.5 million and charter at $105 million in sales/revenues (USACE 2014). Not to mention the 4.2 million people who live within two miles of the coast.
“We will look at the risks from erosion, flooding, storms, which seem to be more frequent and more severe,” Schulenburg said.
Even the low levels of the lake. Schulenburg says it’s about updating their playbook.
“We need to use a more engineering approach with nature in some areas,” Schulenburg said.
And take a critical look at infrastructure, transport and even energy.
For Lawson, any change will be welcome. Currently, the village, thanks to money from the REDI Commission, is in the process of closing its sewage treatment plant at the water’s edge.
“It was good infrastructure to work with, but with the water there’s always potential risk there,” Lawson said.
The plan is to build a park once it is removed. Lawson hopes you’ll come see it when it’s finished.
“What we really need is for people to come and visit us like they did before 2017,” Lawson said.
Another piece of the puzzle is the USEPA, through its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provided funding to the US Army Corps of Engineers for the Resilient Investments Framework. Essentially, it helps the US Army Corps of Engineers bridge its science gap, in regards to storms, lake level fluctuations, and more, so the playbook can also be updated.