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Barclay explains position change on Lake Ontario water plan

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Assemblyman William A. Barclay, R-Pulaski, who recently spoke out against the International Joint Commission’s proposed BV7 water management plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, said he is “more educated” now than when he supported a similar “environmentally friendly” regulation option four years ago.

Plan BV7 is the binational commission’s more “balanced” variant of plan B+, a regulation proposal Mr. Barclay endorsed in 2008 for its promises of significant environmental benefits.

“I’ve become a little more educated on the issue. And I don’t think this plan is balanced,” said Mr. Barclay, who recently co-signed a letter urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to help block BV7. “It doesn’t take into consideration lakeshore property owners.”

The IJC’s BV7 plan, he said Monday, promises environmental benefits that cannot be quantified at the cost of homeowners along the lake’s southeastern shore, which Mr. Barclay represents.

Since its announcement, shoreline residents have argued that longer periods of high water levels under BV7 paired with storms will wreak havoc on their waterfront properties.

Citizens groups including Save Our Sodus and Lake Ontario Riparian Alliance, based in the Rochester area, endorse the current water management plan — 1958-DD — and its variations, which they believe have greater economic benefits and minimize erosion damage.

On average, BV7 is expected to increase spring water levels by 2.4 inches, summer levels by 1.2 inches and fall levels by 2 inches.

In an economic impact study, the IJC projects $3 million-per-year “reduced benefits” for lakefront residents with BV7 compared with the current plan — meaning these property owners would be spending that much more on shoreline protection.

Mr. Barclay and other New York politicians representing Lake Ontario communities also have argued that BV7 “lacks an adequate basis in science.”

“Several environmental scientists who were involved in the IJC’s study have stated that the extreme high-water levels that will be created by the BV7 plan are not necessary to restore area wetland habitats,” they wrote in their letter to Mr. Cuomo. “A special panel of the National Research Council also concluded that the scientific work done by the commission is insufficient and does not justify the drastic changes proposed in the BV7 plan.”

But area environmentalists have a different take on the issue.

In the north country in general, BV7 is viewed as a “balanced compromise” that takes into consideration all interests — including environmental and recreational boating interests that were considered neglected under the original water plan — while maintaining significant benefits for south shore cottage owners.

Jennifer J. Caddick, outgoing executive director of Save the River, Clayton, said Monday it is “frustrating” to hear Mr. Barclay’s objections to BV7.

“BV7 provides a massive subsidy, more than $20 million in annual benefits, for shoreline property owners,” she said. “And the environmental benefits are documented very clearly.”

BV7 derives from the B+ option laid out in 2006 as a result of a five-year, federally funded $20 million study to update the now half-century-old regulation plan for the lake and river.

Much like B+, BV7 is expected to help reverse the damage done to the region’s ecosystem with the construction of the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam in Massena in the late 1950s by mimicking the natural rise and fall of the lake and river.

The IJC is anticipating a 40 percent increase in Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River-area wetland meadows — a highly diverse plant community and vital habitat for fish and wildlife — under BV7, although nobody knows how long that will take.

Also, Ms. Caddick said, a 2007 study by the Brookings Institution found every dollar spent on Great Lakes restoration would generate $2 in economic activity in the region.

The lower water levels allowed under the proposed plan are also expected to help rebuild beaches.

For recreational boating, BV7 would allow longer boating seasons but there will be “lower-low years” when boating will be difficult.

IJC’s analysis of a century’s worth of water level data shows the BV7 plan would have allowed for a low summertime peak as low as 244.09 feet — when 244.4 feet is generally considered as a “concern level” for boating.

On the other hand, the analysis also shows the BV7 plan would have allowed for a high of about 248.5 feet, some 2.4 inches higher than that allowed under the existing plan.

IJC is still asking for the public’s feedback on the matter.

It will gather input until June 15 and then draft its final proposal, which will include a revised order of approval, regulation plan, adaptive management plan and governance structure.

The commission also will hold formal public hearings on the final proposal before adopting a new set of regulations.

Follow the IJC’s progress at www.ijc.org/losir.

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