May 29–WASHINGTON — Congress is moving toward authorizing a four-year, $12 million study into what can be done to prevent the kind of flooding that devastated New York’s Lake Ontario shoreline last year.
A key Senate committee last week approved a must-pass water resources bill that authorizes funding for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which aims to examine infrastructure improvements that might be necessary to prevent flooding all through the Great Lakes basin.
“The ongoing and devastating flooding that occurred all along our Lake Ontario, and to some degree, Lake Erie, shorelines last year was a resounding wake-up call that we must do more — and fast — to better protect all our lakefront communities from ongoing flood threats,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday. “And the bottom line is that authorizing the Great Lakes Coastal Resilience Study in this year’s Water Resources Development Act is the first step to making this long-term effort come to fruition.”
In addition to passing the bill authorizing funding for the study, Schumer and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand said they would work with the Army Corps of Engineers to set aside the money needed for it. That’s because, like all federal projects, the Great Lakes study first must be authorized before money can be appropriated to fund it.
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about whether their shoreline protections are strong enough to withstand flooding from rising water levels or storm surge,” said Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who worked to include the authorization into the Water Resources Development Act passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week. “With this provision, we are one step closer to putting the right protections in place and making sure that the damage caused by last year’s high water levels does not happen again.”
Flooding last spring is believed to have caused upward of $100 million in damage along New York’s Lake Ontario shoreline. Scientists blamed the high water on heavy spring rains, but Rep. Chris Collins and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have questioned whether there’s another culprit: the International Joint Commission’s Plan 2014, which allowed Lake Ontario’s water levels to rise slightly in an effort to protect the region’s wetlands.
No matter the cause of the flooding, politicians from both parties have agreed that more research needs to be done to find ways to protect the shoreline and its property owners.
Collins, a Republican from Clarence, in January wrote a letter to the Trump administration seeking funding for the Great Lakes study. Sixteen House members from the Great Lakes region, including Rep. Brian Higgins — a Buffalo Democrat — signed Collins’ letter.
And while President Trump did not include funding for the study in his fiscal 2019 budget proposal, Collins said he would work to get that money included as Congress takes up the spending bill that will fund water projects the coming fiscal year.
“We have to do everything we can to protect the Great Lakes, and as we begin working on appropriations bills in the House, I’m committed to making sure this important study is funded,” Collins said.
The study aims to protect both the Great Lakes coastline and the 4.2 million people who live within two miles of it, as well as the St. Lawrence River shoreline, New York’s two U.S. senators said. The study is also intended to find ways to protect the region’s 60 commercial harbors and a maritime economy that generated 293,000 jobs.
The senators also noted that funding for the study is a top priority for the Army Corps of Engineers’ districts in Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit.
The Army Corps would perform the study and is seeking $1.7 million for the federal share of the first year of the study. The Great Lakes states have also committed to picking up a share of the study’s costs.