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Suggested water level change in Lake Ontario strongly opposed

Suggestions to change the water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway were met with strong disapproval Tuesday from an overflow crowd of more than 400 people at the Olcott Fire Hall.

The tone of disapproval was set by a letter submitted by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who wrote that changing the water levels would make the high levels higher and the low levels lower, thus causing "devastating" financial and physical losses to shoreline property, fishing and other marine interests, including marina operations.

Maziarz's letter, read by an aide, brought enthusiastic applause from many in the audience. The senator's letter, addressed to the International Joint Commission, said numerous elected legislators were "against" the commission's suggestions.

The meeting was convened by the IJC, a binational organization established in 1909 to help Canada and the United States cooperatively manage the waters shared by the two countries.

Tuesday's meeting was devoted to Lake Ontario and the seaway because they are the major waterways that can be controlled by the Moses Saunders Dam across the St. Lawrence between Massena, N.Y., and Cornwall, Ont.

The IJC also is responsible for water-level management in Lake Erie and the Upper Great Lakes, but they would not be affected by its current suggestions. The suggestions are part of a study that is far from completion and will require numerous public hearings and changes before it can be implemented.

An earlier proposal known as Plan 2007 was withdrawn without being put into place because of widespread disapproval.

The IJC said a new plan is needed because shoreline development has continued to grow in some areas since the current management plan took effect in October 1963.

"New homes have been built, many residents have converted summer cottages to year-round residences, and recreational boating has become a significant economic activity," the IJC said in a booklet titled "A New Path Forward -- Pursuing a Balanced Approach." It is subtitled "The History, Challenges and Proposed Future Management of Water Levels and Flows."

The booklet says the current management of water levels is "outdated, unable to deal with future challenges and does not take the environment into consideration."

Under current practices, the IJC tries to keep the fluctuation of water level within four feet from its lowest points in winter to its highest points in summer.

The commission's latest suggestions, presented at Tuesday's meeting, would raise the Lake Ontario average level by 2.4 inches in April, 1.2 inches in June and 2 inches in October.

Regardless of whether any changes are made, the IJC said, "Shoreline residents affected by changing water levels and flows must continue to prepare for and adapt to the dynamic conditions found along the shoreline" of the waterways."