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Local municipalities optimistic 'REDI' will improve Lake Ontario shoreline infrastructure

Nick Lippa

After another year with record high lake levels, New York State has formed a multi-agency task force to come develop plans to strengthen infrastructure along Lake Ontario’s shoreline. The Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative Commission -- also known as REDI -- continues to meet with local municipalities. WBFO’s Nick Lippa attended Tuesday's meeting in Albion to see how the meetings are progressing.

The REDI commission wants to make sure every possible idea is heard before implementing millions of dollars along Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shorelines. With meetings like these, New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said they are counting on municipal leaders to help bring projects forward.

“The dialogue has been positive. I think people feel like the state is responding to their needs and I think they feel like at the end of the day, everyone’s curious to see how this (whole) process is going to work,” Kulleseid said, “but I think people feel like you were going to get some good projects out of this and we’re going to take some action that were really going to benefit these communities.”

Before REDI held Tuesday’s meeting, state Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Director Abby Snyder said state officials took a tour of the area set up by emergency response directors.

“As they set the tour up, they either had some local official with them to basically give us an idea of what the impacts were and what the issue really is just so we could get a good figure for both Orleans and Niagara County,” Snyder said.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO News

Dale Banker works as Director of Emergency Management for Orleans County. That group often acts a conduit between the locales, towns and counties, putting state and federal assets together. Banker said by being proactive and improving communication, they can avoid costly mistakes like they endured in 2017.

“We have three lakeshore townships and they filled sandbags at the DOT facility in Albion, Orleans County. And maybe at the Albany level didn’t think how to move those assets from that point to the three townships. I know our county highway incurred costs of about $25,000 dollars,” Banker said. “The County was reimbursed 75% of that cost. Just little things like that learned from last time (2017).”

Banker said he’s currently pleased with how the state is communicating.

“Very happy with the process and hopefully all these projects, both in Orleans and Niagara County get funded and things are much better going forward,” he said.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO News

There’s a diversity of problems when it comes to higher lake levels. This lead to several questions such as are these infrastructure proposals low maintenance overtime? Does the area need more than just a restoration from prior damage? How will final projects be selected? REDI is currently prioritizing bigger picture issues.

Village of Wilson Mayor Arthur Lawson said something he hopes to see develop along his shoreline is a wastewater treatment plan.

“This is a project that we are working on with the town of Newfane and the Town of Wilson,” Lawson said. “So it would be a great shared service and working on this project on this shared service would eliminate all risk to the harbor from that plant as well as open up a lot of economic opportunity that would develop pretty much on its own I believe.”

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO News

What concerns leaders like Lawson is the unpredictability of the situation after another year of record high lake levels.

“Initial projections I’ve heard for next year is that we’re expecting even higher water. We need to get in front of that now,” Lawson said.  

REDI wants to review all the regional proposals by the end of the summer. It’s a quick turnaround, but Kulleseid said it needs to be.

“It’s acknowledging the new normal, right? People don’t like to use that term. But it is. We’re facing it. So we want to make sure that this part of New York, which is such a beautiful and private part of the state, also has got the resources to prosper in to the future,” Kulleseid said.

REDI will meet in Monroe County Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Greece Town Hall.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.