WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Thursday unanimously confirmed former Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin as the U.S. section chair of the International Joint Commission, making a Western New Yorker the most powerful American voice on the agency that regulates water levels on the Great Lakes.
President Trump nominated Corwin to the slot last August on the recommendation of Rep. Chris Collins, who, like Corwin, is a Republican from Clarence.
And like Collins, Corwin has concerns about the IJC's Plan 2014, a relatively new water management regimen that, according to critics, put a premium on protecting wetlands rather than preventing flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
Asked about Plan 2014 shortly after Thursday's confirmation vote, Corwin said: "Clearly, it's a very important issue and the agency certainly has a role in determining what the best policy is for that. That will be something that will be of top concern and something that we would take up right away and take a look at."
Corwin said, however, that it's too early to know whether there is anything the IJC can do in the short term to mitigate current flooding concerns along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
"I need to get on board first before I could even address that question," Corwin said.
Flooding inundated the Lake Ontario shoreline in early 2017, causing $100 million in damage, and high water levels and occasional flooding have recurred there this spring, prompting bipartisan concern.
"We can't go through this every year," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, said on a recent visit to Western New York. "The IJC has to figure out a better way to manage the water, period. That is their job."
The IJC's job is actually even bigger than that. The binational agency is charged with managing all the boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada, meaning its responsibilities stretch from the St. Lawrence River to Alaska.
That being the case, Corwin said she expects to travel a great deal early in her tenure at the IJC to learn about the issues firsthand.
The Senate also confirmed two other IJC members Thursday: Robert C. Sisson of Michigan and Lance V. Yohe of North Dakota.
But Canada still has to nominate and confirm its three new IJC members.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, expressed concerns that Canada still has not done so.
"I was proud to support the confirmation of these nominees to the IJC and look forward to working in lockstep with them to shield Lake Ontario communities from more devastating flooding," Schumer said. "I now urge Canada to now do its part to nominate and pass the Canadian IJC members so the commission can meet a quorum."
For her part, Corwin said she expected Canada to act promptly.
"I'm confident that the Canadian commissioners will be coming on board shortly as well," she said. "And certainly that would help expedite any kind of policy changes we want to make."
Corwin thanked Trump for nominating her, and she also thanked Collins for pushing for her nomination.
A local businesswoman, Corwin served in the State Assembly from 2009 through 2016.
"Jane’s experience as an assemblywoman for the Ontario lakeshore properties and her understanding of the issues with Plan 2014 will make her an exceptional leader of the commission," said Collins, a vehement critic of Plan 2014. "I know Jane, as well as Commissioners Robert Sisson and Lance Yohe, will protect the homeowners and small businesses along our shorelines.”