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State of emergency declared along Lake Ontario

Rising levels on Lake Ontario have prompted officials in counties near Buffalo and Rochester to declare a state of emergency.

Officials said they expect higher than normal water levels over the next few days and into the weekend -- with a possibility of flooding.

Jonathan Schultz, director of emergency services in Niagara County, says there's been minor to moderate flooding in some areas. But the county is still using caution.

"We'll be working on hauling in sand and we'll start building sand bags to start protecting overlying areas and critical infrastructure," said Schultz.

Water levels on Lake Ontario have increased 10 inches above normal since the start of April, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Community safety committee chairman David Godfrey in Niagara County says the levels are much higher than past springs. That's causing dangerous situations along the shore, especially for boaters.

"Because of the heavy inflows, it's pulling ... trees and limbs and other debris into the lake, causing hazards for our boaters," he said. "And along the lake shore there's obstacles that now are submerged, it could be docks it could be rocks, that used to be seen." 

Godfrey is advising boaters to stay 500 feet away from the shoreline. Also, people walking near steep banks along Lake Ontario should use caution and stay as far from the edge as possible.

In Wayne County, outside Rochester, officials also declared a state of emergency for the area's bays and harbors.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Steven LeRoy and Sheriff Barry Virts said a "special state of emergency" was in place for Sodus Bay, Port Bay, East Bay, Blind Sodus Bay, Pultneyville Harbor and Bear Creek Harbor.

As of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, motorized boat traffic must operate at idle speed only, causing no wake on those bays and harbors.

Meanwhile, officials of some towns along Lake Ontario met this week to discuss the impact of a new lake management plan that took effect in January. Plan 2014, which was formulated by the International Joint Commission, allows for wider swings in lake levels.

Environmental advocates have argued that the previous plan hurt wetlands and did other damage to the environment.

Greece Town Supervisor Bill Reilich says he and other officials of communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario plan to go to Washington soon to lobby against the plan.

“This plan would not be in the best interest of our residents in so much as it elongates the period of time that the water levels are higher and every week that you remain with higher water levels, is the likelihood that a windstorm  or something could cause a lot of erosion and damage and flooding,” Reilich told WXXI News.

Frank Bevacqua, a spokesman for the IJC, says that the lake level plan that was implemented earlier this year had a negligible impact on the current high water situation.

Oak Orchard lighthouse
Dave Rosenthal /
Oak Orchard lighthouse

Copyright 2017 Great Lakes Today

Angelica A. Morrison
Angelica A. Morrison is a multimedia journalist with over a decade of experience in the field.
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