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Local mayors call for action on Lake Ontario flooding

Local residents came to Quinte West city hall Tuesday to voice concerns to municipal leaders around Lake Ontario flooding that’s caused millions of dollars in property damage. The panel of politicians included (from left) Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester, Brighton Mayor Brian Ostrander, Belleville Mayor Mitch Panciuk, Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison, Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson and Tyendinaga Township Reeve Rick Phillips. Photo by Evan Doherty, QNet News

By Evan Doherty [1]

QUINTE WEST – Amid widespread concern about high water levels and flooding in Lake Ontario, Quinte-region mayors gathered here Tuesday to share ideas about what can be done.

At its peak this year, Lake Ontario’s water level was more than 50 centimetres above normal, causing extensive flooding and damage. There were also record highs in 2017.

The mayors of Belleville, Quinte West, Prince Edward County, Brighton and Napanee, along with Tyendinaga Township’s reeve, gathered at Quinte West city hall Tuesday morning to talk about the problem. One of the main areas of concern was a policy put into place in 2017 by the International Joint Commission [2] on boundary waters between Canada and the U.S.. That policy, called Plan 2014 [3], was intended to combat falling water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to protect fish and wildlife habitat. But its result has been water levels so high that residents and businesses along Lake Ontario are concerned.

The meeting of the politicians was open to interested members of the public. Residents said they are worried about what the future effects of Plan 2014 will be if changes aren’t made soon.

Sarah Delicate, head of the citizens’ group United Shoreline Ontario, say she wants to give a voice to those affected by flooding on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Photo by Evan Doherty, QNet News

Sarah Delicate, president of the citizens’ group United Shoreline Ontario [4], was outspoken at the meeting. Her group represents people on the north shore of Lake Ontario and is fighting to prevent shoreline flooding.

“We are a grassroots organization that’s got two main objectives. One’s to help with flood resiliency, but our main driver is to have to Plan 2014 revoked or reviewed,” Delicate said.

Delicate says she’s been personally affected by high water in Lake Ontario even though she lives in Bowmanville, west of the Quinte region.

“I live in  community of over 100 homes. There are about 50 of us directly in harm’s way,” Delicate said.

“In 2017 and 2019, we’ve had to deploy thousands and thousands of sandbags. We’ve been pumping water for months and months. There were eight different pumps that were (running) at all times,” she said.

“We have to start talking” about the flaws in Plan 2014, she told the politicians.

Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison said he and his fellow municipal leaders from the region intend to take action against Plan 2014 to protect their communities, and they have a plan.

High water levels have “caused devastating impacts on infrastructure, safety and health,” Quinte West Mayor Jim Harrison said. Photo by Evan Doherty, QNet News

“No. 1 is revoke Plan 2014. Revert back to Plan 1958, [5]” which maintained minimum water flows by reducing water levels in the summer and having a set water level for the winter, he said.

Then, “Call for immediate action to reduce water levels and keep them down. The current water levels caused devastating impacts on infrastructure, safety and health.”

Extraordinary measures are needed to alleviate the flooding, he said.

“We’re hoping by starting here today that we will affect other areas. What I’m wanting in the next week or so is to get a letter out and have all the municipalities along Lake Ontario sign that letter. That letter will go to the federal government to let them know that they have to take action,” Harrison said.

“We request that the (International Joint Commission) respond to us within 14 days with information regarding an enhanced action to reduce water levels.”