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Flood watch upgraded to warning for Lake Ontario shoreline

OLCOTT - For some of those who live close to Lake Ontario, Friday's high winds and high water really hit home.

"My yard is flooded. My yard's never been flooded," Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg, who lives near Olcott Harbor, said around noon Friday.

A flood warning is now in effect through 2 a.m Saturday for the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Niagara and Orleans counties.

The National Weather Service, in the upgrade from a flood watch, warned of increased flooding in the area due to an already high lake level. Moderate to strong winds will stir high waves and lead to more erosion along the shoreline, the weather service said.

Members of the public in the warning area "should take immediate action to protect life and property," the weather service said.

Waves were crashing into shore on Lake Ontario Friday, but so far there hasn't been much flooding, Niagara County Emergency Management Director Jonathan F. Schultz said.

Schultz told The Buffalo News that the strong winds are producing the expected waves in Olcott and other locations along the lakeshore.

Schultz said he dispatched another shipment of sandbags to Youngstown. "They're having some issues in the area of the Youngstown Yacht Club," he said, referring to a site on the Niagara River just south of its mouth into the lake. Sandbags were stacked in front of the Niagara Jet Adventures building next to the Yacht Club earlier in the week.

Also in Youngstown, Fort Niagara reported a chunk of land near two 18th century structures collapsed into the lake this week. Robert Emerson, executive director of the fort, said Friday that he plans to speak to the Army Corps of Engineers about a shoreline preservation project.

Rain will continue douse the region on Friday, with another inch or inch and a half expected through tonight, said National Weather Service meteorologist David Church. The steadiest rain comes in the morning, turning into showers in the afternoon and tonight, as well as through Saturday.

The 6.38 inches of precipitation that fell in April made it the wettest April on record in Buffalo, and May has been pretty soggy so far. Through Thursday, 1.74 inches of rain have already fallen this month in the Buffalo area.

The weather service does not anticipate any significant inland flooding along creeks and streams in the coming days.


A bank of land on the Lake Ontario shore crumbled Thursday at Krull Park in Olcott. (Courtesy Niagara County)

Niagara County announced late Thursday that access has been restricted to part of Krull Park, located on the lakeshore in Olcott, after a bank slide along the lake. Public Works Commissioner Garret A. Meal said a snow fence was erected to cordon off the crumbled land.

"What's happening there is what's happening all along the lake," Schultz said.

Access to a portion of another county park also was restricted Thursday. In Royalton Ravine Park, which is well inland, heavy rains led to the failure of a staircase on a hiking trail because of erosion, the county announced.

Back at the lakeshore, Horanburg said Jackson and Van Buren streets in Olcott, which lead to the harbor, are closed. The flood threat is only part of the reason.

The sewer manholes on the streets are covered with sandbags to keep them closed, but the town sometimes has to pump water from one section of the sewer to another as lake water enters the system.

Horanburg said another reason for the closures is the conduct of some people who drive to Olcott to see for themselves, and have been violating private property.

"The sightseers have no respect for the homeowners. It's terrible," Horanburg said.

Kay Armstrong of Olcott said the concrete retaining wall behind her West Bluff home was holding up fairly well.

"The last series of storms has eroded the lip above the wall," Armstrong said.

She added that in a previous flood, a nearby house's basement and first floor were flooded, and the owner lost his furnace and water heater.

"There's very definitely been a lot of erosion," said Ed Taublieb of West Bluff, who also has a retaining wall and lives on a bluff 30 feet above the water.

"The number of days with very high winds is worse than I've ever seen," added Taublieb, who has lived in Olcott for five years.

The International Joint Commission has made no changes to the outflow rates from the lake into the St. Lawrence River since midnight Thursday.

The IJC's Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence Board has been adjusting the outflows down the St. Lawrence frequently in the past month to try to balance flooding threats on the New York shoreline against those in the Montreal area, where there were evacuations of some homes this week. More rain and flooding are forecast in that region this weekend.

The Corps of Engineers said Friday that the level of Lake Ontario is 22 inches above its average for this time of year, but it forecast an increase of only two more inches in the next month. The level is six inches below the all-time May record, set in 1973.


High lake levels batter Olcott at one end, Montreal on the other

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