LYONS — Wayne County supervisors on Wednesday got a peak at numbers from a still-active survey of Lake Ontario shoreline owners on the impact of high lake levels.
And the news wasn’t good for homeowners or businesses.
Scott Steinschneider, a professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University, which is conducting the survey, addressed members of the Economic Development and Planning Committee. He provided data that — assuming there is funding — could result in a more detailed study to identify areas most vulnerable to high water levels in the future and could also assist in flood-risk planning and flood-resiliency efforts for the county and shoreline communities.
County officials believe the data also could be helpful in waterfront-development efforts.
The Cornell study is being funded through a grant from New York Sea Grant, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The survey, which started in May and continues until Aug. 31, indicates that a large majority of shoreline owners across the south shore — from Niagara County to Jefferson County — are reporting flooding issues related to those high waters. The numbers reported are as of June 30, and Wayne County had the largest number of responses among shoreline counties so far.
One of the key questions noted by Steinschneider: “Have waters from Lake Ontario or a connected water body inundated your dock, lawn, landscaping or the base of any outbuildings on your property during the 2017 high Water Event?”
“A vast number of responders have had some sort of (water) inundation,” Steinschneider said.
However, to the question of whether those waters had reached foundations of homes and businesses, a much smaller majority of respondents said yes, though Steinschneider added that it still was a significant number.
As for land lost to erosion, many respondents said they had lost a substantial chunk of land to Lake Ontario.
As for businesses, a large number reported “substantial impact” from the current high water levels, while those deriving rental income from properties also reported a similar negative impact.
Further, the survey indicated that very few property owners carry flood insurance.
Steinschneider said that’s understandable, because historically, there have been few years — save 1973 — where levels approached current heights.
That could change, said Huron Supervisor Laurie Crane — whose town has shoreline on Lake Ontario, Sodus Bay, Port Bay and East Bay — if the levels seen in 2017 become the norm.
And that in itself makes flood insurance problematic, she added.
“They (homeowners and business) can’t recover if every year they’re going to be flooded,” she said.
Supervisor Ken Miller of Palmyra noted that protecting Wayne County’s shoreline is an issue for the whole county, saying that the county collects a significant amount of sales tax dollars from those communities, as well as property taxes.
“All those assessments are going to drop (if the shoreline damage continues),” he said.