Lon Flick once gazed out over 80 feet of land between his Porter home and Lake Ontario.
Today, just 40 feet separates his home from the lake. And there's no telling how long that buffer zone will last.
The lake is 31 inches higher than normal – three inches above the all-time record for the month – and is still rising; it's expected to go up another four inches over the next month. When winds pick up from the north, more of Flick's property disappears into the crashing waves of the lake.
For residents in Porter, Olcott, Wilson and other communities on Lake Ontario, these are worrisome days.
“I finally got a permit two years ago to put in a breakwall,” Flick said last week. “I put one in. The breakwall’s in the lake, and all the land behind it is washed away.”
Gone with his land are several oak, beech and ash trees. He estimated that the lake has caused $40,000 in damage to his property on Lake Road.
Flick and other lakefront owners last week went to a state “command center” set up outside the Olcott fire hall, seeking help with private insurance claims. The state is not offering compensation, and getting a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to put barriers in the lake requires a separate permit process.
“I had a breakwall. It’s all undermined,” said Willard Antoncich of Wilson, who also was at the command center. “Part of it’s tipped over, and it’s taken 10 feet of rock behind it, just washing it into the lake.”
Antoncich said the workers at the command center told him to call the DEC.
“They may issue a permit for you to fix it. May,” he said of the advice.
Residents and area officials are calling for help, especially from the state, but local agencies have been able to help in the meantime.
Low-lying areas of Olcott are battered with water sloshing over the banks of the lake, filling yards, basements and, in some cases, the first floors of homes or businesses.
That’s where the Niagara County Highway Department has been able to help.
In two days of work last week, a county crew raised the level of the lake bank on Olcott’s west side by almost 3 feet, protecting nearby homes whose backyards still show standing water.
“You can see how effective it is,” Highway Commissioner Dean E. Lapp II said, standing in a now-dry parking lot that was nearly inundated last month.
Joel Grundy is one Olcott resident pleased with the efforts of the local crew.
“A lot of good men spent a lot of time and resources protecting a few of us,” he said.
The county crew used excavators that pulled sand, rocks and gravel, which had been loosened by high water, out of the lake and piled it along the shore, raising the height of the parking lot’s edge by about three feet.
The new barrier then was strengthened by three levels of cable concrete, or, as Lapp called it, “shore armor.”
“The concept is to get this shoreline back to its original existence,” Lapp said.
The only problem is that the county could find only 200 feet of the precast concrete to place along the shore. No more is available for the time being, Lapp said of the cable concrete made by Kistner Concrete of Lockport.
In addition, Newfane’s water and sewer crews installed pumps at several locations in Olcott, pumping water from inland areas back into the lake.
“The water table and the lake level are getting pretty close,” Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said. The result is that in some cases, the water isn’t running in from the lake; it’s coming up through the ground.
Grundy, who has lived on West Lake Street in Olcott for 15 years, said he had his doubts about how effective the pumps would be in reducing the flood threat from a pond across the street from his house that once was a part of Eighteen Mile Creek.
“We were really getting nervous,” he said.
But the pumping seems to have worked. The water no longer threatens to spill over the 3-foot-high pile of gravel and sandbags along the pond edge.
“Now it’s right back to where it should be,” Grundy said.
The water poured into the crawl space beneath his house, where he is still able to open a hatch and see 2 feet of water beneath his home.
“I just come here every couple of days and take five buckets out,” Grundy said. “We’re afraid of mildew under the house. We’ve got a dehumidifier going.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered the DEC to speed up the processing of permit requests for the construction of protective structures in the lake, a process that includes the separate approval normally needed from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Meanwhile, sandbags remain the key to flood protection in many areas. Military personnel and jail inmates have been at work at the Olcott Fire Company hall. Using shovels, four to six inmates fill sandbags five days a week through the county’s work program, said Thomas Summers, program supervisor.
On the other hand, members of the 107th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard used a sandbag-filling machine. About 30 members of the unit were working on each shift through most of last week, filling bags that weigh 40 to 50 pounds, said Col. Gary Charlton, vice commander of the 107th, based in Niagara Falls.
While the situation in Olcott is slowly improving, residents of other lakefront areas were still talking about their property losses – not objects, but land that collapsed into the lake.
Bill Kramp said his son, Scott Newman, who lives on Somerset Drive in Somerset, now lives about 15 feet closer to Lake Ontario than he did a few weeks ago. He still has 75 feet of buffer before his home is threatened.
“There’s no repair. You can’t do anything. All you can do is go there and watch the waves take the soil,” Kramp said.
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