In the wake of historic flooding, New York State creates the “Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative”

In the spring of 2017, U.S. and Canadian communities all around Lake Ontario experienced historic flooding that caused widespread shoreline erosion, damaged coastline structures and jeopardized infrastructure. To help communities on the New York side rebuild, make necessary repairs and stabilize properties from flood damage, the state has now made a commitment of more than $100 million to the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shorelines.

On May 29, 2019, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the formation of the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, or REDI, commission. This multi-agency task force is charged with developing a plan to harden infrastructure along Lake Ontario’s waterfront while strengthening the region’s local economies, which are heavily dependent on summer tourism.

Rather than just using antiquated rip-rap tactics, the program will enhance natural features such as living shorelines. But they will also use old-fashioned sand replenishment on the Lake Ontario waterfront.

The State has committed more than $100 million to rebuild communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline that were devastated by flooding in 2017, only to once again experience record high water levels and flooding in those same communities. The approach developed by this new task force and any subsequent investments resulting from its recommendation will take into account the new reality facing these communities.

Intelligence and common sense dictates that this is the new normal, and we should expect continued high water levels for Lake Ontario. We should not be surprised in two years if we are in the same position, and once you accept that premise, it’s a fool’s errand to rebuild to the same standard,” Governor Cuomo said.

So let’s redesign and re-envision a different type of shoreline with different protections and build for these inevitable factors in the future. We are launching the Lake Ontario REDI commission that will tour the affected areas and work with local communities to come up with a new vision for rebuilding the shoreline from both a resiliency and economic development point of view, since many of these communities thrive on the summer tourism industry. We are taking a short and long term approach – not just emergency preparations today, but also rebuilding better and stronger for the future,” he added.

The commission will tour and examine areas that are hard hit by flooding on Lake Ontario, including areas that were impacted by severe flooding in 2017, and develop a package of new actions – ranging from legislative changes to aid packages to executive actions – that will not just rebuild the shoreline, but improve resilience to withstand whatever Mother Nature has in store in the future.

The commission will be co-chaired by Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, and will include other New York State Commissioners. Other members of the multi-agency commission include:

  • Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado
  • Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito
  • Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon
  • Dormitory Authority of the State of New York President and CEO Gerrard Bushell
  • New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner Ruthanne Visnauskas
  • New York State Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez
  • Parks and Historic Preservation Acting Commissioner Erik Kulleseid

Additionally, the commission will examine areas along the St. Lawrence River that were heavily impacted by the high water levels in 2017 to determine any additional measures that can be taken to harden infrastructure in those communities.

Photos courtesy of the office of the New York governor.

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