Following vicious flooding of Lake Ontario during two of the last three years, with private and public property and infrastructure being destroyed, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to include the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study in its Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan.
The study, Schumer and Gillibrand said, would seek to both identify vulnerable areas on the Great Lakes’ shorelines and recommend new shoreline protections to fund to increase resilience to various types of damage. The senators said that in the wake of this devastating flooding of Lake Ontario’s shoreline and with its water level substantially higher than average for this time of the year, the need to plan now how to strengthen Great Lakes infrastructure for the future is clear. Therefore, Schumer and Gillibrand called on USACE to prioritize the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study in its upcoming work plan, a major step toward unlocking essential funding for the study and ensuring that the infrastructure on Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the St. Lawrence Seaway is fully capable of weathering the storms and floods of the future.
“After Lake Ontario experienced record flooding in 2017 and again in 2019, with the risk of a severe repeat this year, it is obvious that we need all hands on deck and an all-of-the-above approach, meaning a coordinated response from federal, state and local government, to address the costly vulnerabilities on our Great Lakes. The obvious place to start is by advancing and initiating the Army Corps’ Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study,” said Senator Schumer. “The Army Corps has a proven track record of executing blueprints that boost shoreline resiliency and it’s about time they do so on Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. That’s why I’m urging the Army Corps to prioritize this vital study on its Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan and am vowing to keep fighting tooth and nail until it is fully funded and underway.”
“Lake Ontario has suffered from repeated severe flooding over the past few years. Homes, businesses, and infrastructure along its shoreline have been severely damaged and continue to face vulnerabilities,” said Senator Gillibrand. “With the continued threat of extreme weather and high water levels, these shoreline communities are still in danger. That’s why I was proud to fight for the authorization of the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which would help the Army Corps protect communities along all the Great Lakes from future flooding. Now, I’m calling on the Army Corps to fund this study and actually implement it. I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that shoreline communities along Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the St. Lawrence Seaway get the help and resources they need.”
Schumer and Gillibrand fought to authorize the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study in the Water Resources Development Act of 2018. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Gillibrand played a key role in advancing this legislation. The study would cost a total of $12 million over four years, 75% of which would be funded by the federal government, and the other 25% by the eight Great Lakes state governments. The Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study would be run by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and is designed to fortify infrastructure and protect both the built and natural areas along the Great Lakes coastline, ensuring that shoreline communities like those along Lake Ontario are better equipped to withstand, recover from and adapt to disruptive events like flooding or storms. The senators explained that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the USACE created a similar blueprint that successfully paved the way to then fund new infrastructure projects that are boosting the resiliency of New York’s Atlantic shoreline, showing that the agency is fully capable of doing the same for the Great Lakes through the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study.
Specifically, the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study was developed to safeguard against threats like flooding and erosion and is vital to protecting the Great Lakes’ 5,200-mile coastline, as well as the 4.2 million people who live within two miles of the coastline. The Study will be an infrastructure investment strategy for the Lake Ontario and Great Lakes coast that will result in a blueprint that identifies vulnerable areas and recommends measures that can be funded to increase resiliency and to protect the coastline. The study will evaluate and recommend an array of structural, natural, and regulatory measures to protect the coastline such as building breakwaters, adding coastal armoring or protective stone groins, developing new resilient design standards, restoring protective barrier islands, conducting beach sand replenishment, and more. Without this plan, the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Division has warned the Great Lakes will face an increased risk of coastal damage in the future and will suffer from management strategies that continue to address this problem through a piecemeal approach that is both inefficient and limited in effectiveness. Protecting this coastline is critical to a robust economy and the tourism industry in the Great Lakes, which includes 60 commercial harbors, a maritime economy valued at $17.3 billion and generating 293,000 jobs, a $14 billion Great Lakes recreation and tourism economy, and a diverse ecosystem of features such as wetlands, bluffs, dunes, beaches, and species that are either threatened or endangered.
Schumer and Gillibrand have been pushing emergency preparation measures along Lake Ontario for years, in the wake of devastating, repetitive flooding. In this year’s federal spending package, Schumer and Gillibrand secured $1.5 million for the International Joint Commission (IJC), then promptly called for the funding to be used to overhaul Plan 2014. Last year, Schumer traveled to Niagara, Cayuga and Monroe Counties to tour the flooding damage and advocate for funding for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which would seek to identify and suggest fixes for vulnerabilities across the Great Lakes’ shorelines. In March of 2019, Schumer voiced his support for the confirmation of Jane L. Corwin, Robert C. Sisson and Lance V. Yohe to the IJC, to ensure the Commission was appropriately staffed to address the rising Lake Ontario water levels, and on May 16 of the same year announced their successful confirmation. Also last May, Schumer announced that following his push, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an official Declaration of Emergency to activate its Emergency Operations Center to join with state and local efforts to assist Lake Ontario communities in the event of flooding. Additionally, Schumer and Gillibrand called on the International Joint Commission (IJC) and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to assess and take all actions possible to mitigate flood risks to surrounding communities, including the appropriate maximization of outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam.
Furthermore, the senators explained, in 2017, many communities along the southern shore of Lake Ontario suffered significant flooding and related property damage, economic dislocation and significant negative impacts to quality of life. Prior to the flooding, Schumer successfully called on the USACE to activate its Emergency Operations Center, allowing the USACE to assist New York State in response efforts and deploy technical assistance teams. Additionally, Schumer helped facilitate a “General Permit”, signed by the USACE and NYSDEC in 2017, as well. Schumer also played a paramount role in securing aid for these communities in the wake of the flooding, including arranging for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deploy two expert federal mitigation teams to Lake Ontario communities to help address the flooding issues and successfully pushing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to issue a major disaster declaration, which enabled federal recovery and repair funding to flow to Jefferson, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Wayne, Cayuga, and Monroe Counties.
A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to USACE appears below.
Dear Mr. James:
We greatly urge you to select the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study for a New Starts Investigations designation in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) FY 2020 Work Plan. This summer, the coastline of Lake Ontario experienced devastating floods that came on the heels of devastating floods just two years ago in 2017. A comprehensive study is more important than ever to protect the Great Lakes coastline—and the millions of residents who live there—from severe threats such as erosion, flooding, and aging infrastructure.
This summer Lake Ontario water levels reached an all-time high causing months of devastating flood waters to inundate and damage near-shore areas. This year’s floods follow similar floods just two years ago in 2017 that resulted in millions of dollars in damages during 14 weeks of then-record high flood waters, resulting in a Major Federal Disaster Declaration (FEMA-4348-DR). This disrupted both the lives and livelihoods of residents, especially those who rely on the $17.3 billion Great Lakes maritime economy which generates 293,000 jobs per year, or the $14 billion Great Lakes recreation and tourism economy. The Great Lakes coastline is also home to diverse ecosystems such as wetlands, bluffs, dunes and beaches, which house species that are threatened or endangered. With 4.2 million Americans living within two miles of the United States Great Lakes coastline, it is important to address the vulnerabilities such as erosion, flooding, nutrient runoff, and aging infrastructure that threaten the 5,200-mile coastline.
The Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study is a top priority for the three Corps Districts (Chicago, Detroit, and Buffalo) surrounding the Great Lakes as well as the Corps’ Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. It also has the support of seven Great Lakes states, the Great Lakes Commission, and several federal agencies with missions in coastal management, including NOAA and U.S. Geological Survey.
We have long advocated for this study and were pleased when it received authorization in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act. We now write to express our strongest support for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study and request that USACE design $1.2 million in funding for it in the FY20 Work Plan.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.