From a distance

A group of visitors to the Sodus Point Lighthouse decided not to chance a close-up look at the structure due to windy and icy conditions in early January 2015. They settled for a group photo a bit farther back instead.

LYONS — The chairman of Wayne County’s Board of Supervisors blasted the decision by the U.S. and Canadian governments to adopt a plan that allows water levels on Lake Ontario to rise and fall more naturally.

Chairman Steve LeRoy of Sodus said Plan 2014, as it is called, will have a devastating effect on shoreline communities, including his town.

“There’s no question that this is a travesty,” said LeRoy, who noted that the six New York counties on Lake Ontario have been fighting the proposal for years.

He said “mass flooding will ensue and that was never considered.”

Assemblyman Bob Oaks, R-130 of Macedon, agreed calling the plan “devastating news” and “government at its worst.”

The controversial plan was ratified Thursday by the International Joint Commission, which advises both nations on managing the Great Lakes. It was released in 2014 but only recently won approval from both federal governments.

Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence levels are controlled partly by releases from a hydropower dam on the river. The commission says policies dating from the 1950s have kept levels too stable, degrading wetlands needed to filter pollutants and provide habitat for fish and other wildlife.

The new plan allows more variation.

LeRoy said those variations will result in both damaging flooding and devastating low-water conditions that could make getting a boat out of Sodus Bay impossible for any larger craft.

He said even under current level fluctuations, Sodus Point has experienced serious flooding, with “the loop” — a section of homes on the bay off the village’s commercial strip — flooded.

Imagine, he said, if high winds come off the lake.

He said the plan has the potential to seriously erode property values along the south shore. LeRoy noted that nearly half of the county’s taxable property comes from lakeshore towns.

“I have opposed the plan for Lake Ontario to change the lake level management plan, allowing higher highs and lower lows, because it will more often expose people along Lake Ontario in Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego counties to flooding and property damage,” Oaks said in a release. “In other summers when there is low water, it will limit recreational opportunities and local businesses will also be hurt.”

U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, also blasted the decision.

“I am incredibly disappointed with today’s announcement that Plan 2014 will move forward,” Katko said in a release issued Thursday. “This decision by the administration, made on its way out the door, will have a devastating impact on the shoreline, homes, businesses and vast agriculture economies of Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego counties. While I certainly support preserving our region’s natural resources and maintaining the health of Lake Ontario, I have long called for more thorough, objective research into the overwhelming consequences of Plan 2014 for our community and our local economy.”

Katko said he will “continue to work with all levels of government — including the incoming administration — as well as stakeholders and community members to pursue every possible course to ensure that our shoreline is protected and to mitigate the impact of this decision.”

LeRoy said Plan 2014’s benefits, which include helping to improve northern pike and muskrat populations by improving shoreline wetlands, are overstated.

Muskrat populations in the region are excellent, he said, as are northern pike.

He said Lake Ontario is a “great fishery” and that “Lake Ontario is cleaner now than it has been in my lifetime.”

He said there are other ways to rebuild shoreline wetlands and marshes, noting work done in Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, which he said is teeming with muskrats. A project by the Nature Conservancy in the Sodus Bay wetlands and marshes is designed to restore habitats that have been inhibited by heavy reed growth.

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