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Cuomo: Lake Ontario harbors in Niagara County will be dredged in 2021

Wilson and Olcott harbors will be dredged in June 2021 as part of the state's response to Lake Ontario's high water level.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday announced 20 sites along the lake and the St. Lawrence River to be deepened this year and next year. The two Niagara County projects are part of the state's $300 million program to deal with the threat of flooding and erosion along the lake.

Cuomo said $15 million has been allocated for the dredging projects.

Two Orleans County sites, Johnson Creek and Oak Orchard Harbor, also are on the dredging list.

"Eight counties are on the Ontario shore," Cuomo said. "Every county has certain dredging operations. It goes from St. Lawrence to Niagara County. What the dredging does is, it increases the access and capacity of creeks, inlets, etc., and it uses the dredging material, in this situation to increase a barrier to keep the high water from affecting the shoreline."

Both Niagara County sites were dredged in recent years by the Army Corps of Engineers, but only within the federally controlled entrance channels.

Town Supervisors Doyle H. Phillips of Wilson and Timothy R. Horanburg of Newfane, which includes Olcott, were glad to hear about the schedule.

"That would be great for us because the area between the piers and the (Route 18) bridge is a no-man's land," Horanburg said.

He said Olcott Harbor is only about 5 feet deep.

"The benefit from dredging is to keep traffic flowing," Horanburg said.

He and Phillips agreed that dredging wouldn't do much to alleviate the flooding threat, but it would help the marinas whose businesses have been impaired by high water.

"All it's going to do is take the sediment off the bottom so when we have low water, the sailboats from Toronto can get in," Phillips said.

"In Wilson's case, the inflows from Twelve Mile Creek are bringing in more sediments just because of the high water," Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey said.

He and Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne M. Johnson attended Cuomo's announcement in Pulaski, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario.

They said the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance already was working on a dredging plan, including trying to obtain advance permitting to help marina owners.

"We were grateful to Gov. Cuomo to take the process on through REDI," Johnson said, referring to the state's Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative, launched last year in response to flooding around the lake.

Johnson said the counties have plans to continue the dredging program after the state's work is completed.

Cuomo said the state already has completed the first round of dredging at Port Bay in Wayne County, the first of the 20 sites on the schedule.

Horanburg said the real protection for low-lying Olcott will be a breakwall, to be built in part with $15.7 million in state aid announced in October.

The 600-foot wall has been discussed since the 1960s, but a detailed plan was disclosed in 2017.

Horanburg said the town already has hired workers to take core and sediment samples of the lake bottom from a barge anchored off Olcott, to make sure the site is suitable for the stone wall.

Horanburg said the Town of Newfane expects to seek bids for the construction of the breakwall before the end of this year, with work expected in 2021.

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