By Dan Barletta
In response to the Another Voice column by Jim Howe of the Nature Conservancy, if the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) Plan 2014 is implemented, history might very well look back at both the plan and the current IJC commissioners as the source of more man-made property and economic damage to New York than from any other disaster in its history.
Most of the time, the damage will not be dramatic or sudden, but a silent grinding away of public and private property until the time when entire parcels are devalued or taken off the tax rolls. As an example, 30 percent of the assessed value of the five shoreline towns in Wayne County is waterfront property. If the county loses these properties to the lake, and the county wants to maintain the current level of services, somebody will have to make up that difference. The six south shore counties that will experience the most damage from this plan happen to be in the top 18 counties nationwide that pay the most property taxes.
At other times, man-made extreme high levels will mean that the damage will be catastrophic, with millions of dollars in damage occurring in a single day.
Further in his essay, Howe cites dollar values that seem to say that this aberrant plan would provide millions of dollars in benefits. What he fails to state is that the low water periods would be devastating to the $94 million-per-year sports fishing industry along the south shore, or that the estimates for property damage along this shore have been shown to be two-to-three times greater than the plan states.
Most private property damage is undervalued and damage to public lands and infrastructure is not even evaluated. Water intakes, sewer systems, roads, bridges, power lines and other sensitive infrastructure might be at risk from drastic man-made level changes on both the high and low side.
An example of the failure of the commission to properly evaluate the potential economic losses is in the Town of Somerset. This town has more than $400 million in public assets that were not included in the damage estimates in the original study by the IJC.
This plan was created behind closed doors with the environmental interests and no other interest allowed in. We commend the elected representatives of the province of Quebec for standing up to the IJC and stating that they would not accept any more damage than what occurs to their part of the system under the current plan. But we are dismayed that New York State representatives would allow this damage to occur to their citizens. The IJC needs to return to the drawing board and come back with a more represented plan.
Dan Barletta is Monroe County director of the Lake Ontario Riparian Alliance. He was a member of the International Joint Commission’s Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study.