State emergency officials touring flooded shore towns to pledge help

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SACKETS HARBOR — Michael Kopy, the governor’s office director of emergency management, fielded questions outside the village water treatment plant on Wednesday.

The plant, on the shores of Lake Ontario, is protected by two barriers — a deteriorating seawall along the lake and, higher up, a square of water-filled AquaDams forming a temporary barrier against future flooding, a visual reminder of the high water levels of the lake.

“Currently we’re setting up sandbags and filling AquaDams in all eight counties” along the lake and river, Mr. Kopy said.

Although Lake Ontario water levels remained below the record highs of 2017 as of Friday, the levels have reached the criterion H14 high level that applies this time of year, authorizing the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board to deviate from regulation Plan 2014, and the state has been ramping up its response for several weeks. Mr. Kopy was joined by village Mayor Molly C. Reilly and Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman Scott A. Gray, to survey the preparations and provide an update on the state response to high water levels, which has included over 300,000 sandbags to waterfront communities.

For the village, the seawall around the water treatment plant is one of the most immediate concerns. The wall itself is backfilled with rocks, which are steadily being pushed higher onto the plant’s lawn. If the wall collapses, Ms. Reilly said, the water intake pipe that stretches into the lake could be jeopardized.

“This seawall is what’s really protecting the system,” she said. “The wave action even this season has pushed that (fill) up.”

For residents facing high water levels, Mr. Kopy said the issue was reaching out and requesting what they need.

“It’s important for the homeowners to recognize that the time is now,” he said. “There’s still time to sandbag your house. We have these resources; we’re dropping every possible sandbag off that we can to municipalities.”

Mr. Kopy also praised the local officials for their implementation of state resources so far.

“This is the model for preparedness,” he said.

Mr. Gray said the county currently has what it needs.

“There are no unmet needs right now,” he said. “Last time, in 2017, we were kind of fighting it from behind. This time we’re much more out in front of this, and that’s really due to the state’s assistance.”

The next major issue will be the return of seasonal residents coming for the summer season.

“When people arrive this weekend, they’ll have sandbags ready so they can prepare their residence,” Mr. Kopy said.

Ms. Reilly said businesses were concerned about the impact of high water.

“2017 was a hard year for all of the local businesses,” she said. “Forecasting, looking ahead to 2019, they are worried. We’re trying to make sure they have the resources that they need to protect their actual structures.”

Regardless of the weather, she said the village is ready for summer.

“All of our communities are open,” she said. “Our businesses are ready to welcome so many guests.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo continues to spar with the International Joint Commission over the flooding, claiming the agency needs to do more — a message Mr. Kopy echoed. The IJC oversees regulation of the Great Lakes as well as the St. Lawrence River. Its Plan 2014, adopted in late 2016, is the basic regulation plan governing Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River and is implemented by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board.

“We are working with the IJC,” Mr. Kopy said. “It’s clear we shouldn’t be in the position we are in today. If you talk to the local residents in the eight counties, and I’ve been to each of the eight counties, they knew this was going to be a problem in January or February.”

The IJC has said there is simply a limited amount of water it can push through the Moses-Saunders hydropower dam on the St. Lawrence, and the effort must balance multiple communities. Mr. Kopey said officials can do better.

“We can’t have this in New York, year-in, year-out,” he said. “Our position is if they can reduce the water level by any amount, provide relief for the state of New York, that’s a good thing.”

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