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Editorial: Corwin has opportunity to improve IJC

President Trump's nomination of Clarence Republican Jane Corwin to become U.S. chair of the International Joint Commission looks like a positive step in calming the waters surrounding the agency.

Corwin is a former member of the Assembly and a political ally of Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. Collins has been among the sharpest critics of the binational body that manages boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada.

At issue was the IJC's regulation of Lake Ontario waters after the lake flooded in the spring of 2017. The rising lake caused millions in damage to property along the shoreline, and many residents blamed the IJC's water regulation scheme, called Plan 2014, which was adopted earlier that year.

Both Collins and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were among the plan's critics. Collins had urged Trump to replace the agency's Obama-era appointees and install new members on the U.S. side. The president obliged, also nominating an appointee from Michigan and one from North Dakota.

As damage from the flooding was being assessed in May 2017, Cuomo lashed out at the agency and Plan 2014. "There's no doubt the IJC blew it," Cuomo said. "I mean, they blew it! I don't even see how you could debate that."

A subsidiary of the IJC, the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board, in June issued a study absolving Plan 2014 from responsibility for the floods, blaming "extreme water levels."

The agency maintained that unusually heavy rains and unconventional ice formation in early 2017 were to blame for the flooding. Local critics charged that the commission could have done more to minimize the damage.

In fact, there is no doubt that an extremely rainy spring and summer last year contributed significantly to the flooding. Some places were going to be inundated, and they were: not only on the south shore of Lake Ontario, but along the St. Lawrence River, including Montreal. The question is whether the IJC could have managed it better. That's a question that deserves an honest examination.

Collins' status as a Trump whisperer no doubt helped Corwin get the nod. After her nomination was announced Tuesday, Corwin's words were calm and measured, which means she has a good chance of providing effective leadership rather than just making headlines.

Parts of the Niagara County shoreline were in the Assembly district Corwin represented from 2009 to 2016.

"I believe the thought process was to have somebody from this area be on the commission who was familiar with Plan 2014, because that was such a big issue," Corwin said.

She said it would be part of her job as chairwoman "to make sure the commission responds effectively. I think the last two years have been a tremendous learning experience for the commission, and certainly going forward, take those lessons and apply them to make sure harmful impacts are not put on the people in the U.S. or on the Canadian side."

A four-year, $12 million study on what can be done to prevent flooding in the Great Lakes basin is advancing through the U.S. Senate. A Senate committee in May gave approval to the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study, which is backed by New York's two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand and supported by Collins and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Extreme weather appears to be the new normal and taxpayers won't be able to shield owners of waterfront properties against all risk. Nevertheless, the Great Lakes study and the new leadership on the binational IJC may be able identify strategies that can better manage those periods when snow and rain push Lake Ontario beyond its limits. If Corwin does that, she will have rendered a valuable service.

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