MPP Smith, MP Ellis continue to monitor and take stock of shoreline devastation

THE TIDE IS HIGH- (From left) Log Cabin Point Resort owner/operator and Athol Councillor Jamie Forrester speaks with Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis on Wednesday. The Athol ward campground is one of several Prince Edward County businesses that have been negatively affected by the flood of 2019. (Submitted Photo)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Elected leaders from the federal and provincial governments toured selected Prince Edward County  campgrounds and private property last week to get a first hand look at the devastation caused by the record high waters of Lake Ontario.

Both Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis and Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith toured flooded campgrounds and shoreline properties and were able to speak with operators and owners as to how the high waters are negatively impacting the tourism and camping industry as well as shoreline erosion and property enjoyment in Prince Edward County. 

The campgrounds heavily affected by spring flooding account bring more than $14.7 million annually to the Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County area according to figures supplied by Ontario Private Campground Association (OPCA).

MP Ellis visited North Shore RV Park, Log Cabin Point, County Shores and Sandbanks River Country Campground and was joined by members of Camping in Ontario and Boating Ontario.

Camping In Ontario, also known as OPCA, is a member-based Association, comprised of privately owned small businesses located throughout Ontario while Boating Ontario represents over 500 member companies throughout the province  including private and municipal marina operators, boat dealers, brokers and suppliers. 

County of Prince Edward Steve Ferguson accompanied the tour with MP Ellis to discuss the flooding impacts and the Mayor told the Gazette that throughout the spring he has toured all wards throughout the municipality. 

“On numerous occasions, I have observed the impact of high water levels on private properties and municipal infrastructure,” Ferguson said.  “I appreciate MP Ellis taking the time to visit the County and see how hard we have been hit in 2019.”

Ferguson joined Ellis during the visit at Log Cabin Point in Athol ward where the Outlet river level has faced owner Jamie Forrester to employ a number of mitigation strategies to stave off erosion and maintain some semblance of camping spaces and shore line access. Ferguson said the touring party which included Quinte West Deputy Mayor Jim Alyea, saw firsthand the extent of the damage and heard about all of the hard work they have done to protect their properties.

“During the visit, I impressed upon MP Ellis the need to re-visit Plan 2014. I also reminded him about the resolution passed unanimously by Council, which calls on the federal and provincial governments to conduct a formal investigation into the flooding events of 2017 and 2019,” Ferguson added. 

According to figures provided by the OCPA, campground owners have individually spent as high as $149,000 on flood mitigation and repairs from 2017 and 2019 years combined. 

Campgrounds in Ontario contribute heavily to Ontario’s economy in a myriad of industries. In a Tourism Regional Economic Impact Model (TREIM) report, generated by the Ontario government, two of the four campgrounds attending the meeting account for 83,799 visitors each season to the Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County.

The two lobby organizations made it clear through their comments to the media that the IJC must do more this winter to mitigate flooding-regardless of what Plan 2014 calls for in terms of outflow levels.

“The IJC needs to lower Lake Ontario’s water level by winter to avoid the same flooding next year,” said Alexandra Anderson, Executive Director of Camping in Ontario (OPCA). “The camping industry in Ontario is seriously threatened by the water levels and this will take a severe toll on the Ontario’s economic prosperity.”

“High water levels across Ontario have hampered marinas and boaters from the early onset of the 2019 spring season,” added Rick Layzell, Chief Executive Officer of Boating Ontario. “We urge the IJC and all parties involved in water level management to find a meaningful solution so our 30,000+ employees can continue to service the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who depend on safe waterways.

Camping in Ontario said Plan 2014’s purpose is to keep Lake Ontario’s water level higher than normal to help shipping, coastal shorelines and hydroelectric dams prosper. However, Plan 2014 has directly caused Lake Ontario to destroy its own shorelines, homeowners and small businesses on both sides of the lake.

The OPCA added high water levels are counter-balancing many conservation efforts, as trees are drowned out, they fall into the water and cause more erosion of the shoreline, allowing more water to come towards small businesses and households.

According to a press release issued Monday by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board,  water levels are declining throughout the system as warmer, drier weather and record Lake Ontario outflows of 10,400 m3/s (367,270 cubic feet per second) continue.

At its meeting on July 5th, the Board reached consensus to maintain the current outflow, which is 200 m3/s (7,060 cfs) higher than regulation Plan 2014 and the maximum safe navigation limit that would normally apply at these lake levels. The Seaway Corporations have implemented mitigation measures to allow safe navigation to continue at these higher flows, which will continue to lower Lake Ontario levels and provide relief to those impacted by this year’s high water event.

“The Board deliberated several outflow strategies above 10,400 m3/s and considered both the additional decline on Lake Ontario and impacts to other stakeholders. These scenarios included incremental increases all the way up to maximum outflow capacity of the St. Lawrence River. At present, any additional increase in flow would require the Seaway Corporations to shut down shipping on the St. Lawrence River between St. Lambert and Cape Vincent. The economic costs for disrupting the supply chain of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence economy is estimated at $50 Million per day. Additional impacts were also expected for recreational boating and downstream shoreline property owners, including resumed and additional flooding in areas of the lower St. Lawrence River just upstream of Montreal. Additional environmental impacts were also expected due to sustained high flows, including impacts to fish, wildlife and waterfowl habitat and breeding grounds,” the board stated in the release.

Smith has been well aware of flooded-out business and properties in the Quinte area, making frequent property visits like the one he undertook in the Consecon area on Friday and, in a letter to Hon. Catherine McKenna, Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change penned last month, the MPP called Plan 2014 “a bad deal for Ontario residents owning property for housing, agriculture, tourism and other businesses along the lake.”

In the letter Smith pointed to testimony Frank Sciremmano, a engineer and the senior scientific member of the IJC with more than 20 years involvement, gave to the New York State Senate. 

“Speaking for himself – an opponent of Plan 2014 and preceding plans that contributed to it – Sciremmano testified the plan “did not protect against extreme water levels on the lake” and was “purposely biased to protecting the downstream areas of the St. Lawrence River at the expense of shoreline communities on Lake Ontario,” Smith told McKenna.

Sciremmano’s testimony noted that scientists were not allowed to deviate from the plan to provide mitigation for the Lake Ontario shoreline and further that Quebec was able to negotiate a “not-to-exceed maximum” for water levels downstream on the St. Lawrence River, while there was no maximum levels for Lake Ontario.  He stated Plan 2014 also did not include mitigation or compensation measures.

The engineer also referenced guidelines the IJC provided as it was considering Plan 2014 and discussed Plan B+, a preceding plan that prioritized wetlands and environmental benefits to the detriment of other uses.  He quoted the IJC stating the implementation of that plan was not possible “without unduly reducing the benefits and protections currently accorded to other interests.”

“Referencing Sciremmano’s years of experience on the file and seeing the devastation my constituents have experienced since Plan 2014 came into effect, I must conclude that it was a bad deal for Ontario residents owning property for housing, agriculture, tourism and other businesses along the lake. As such, the only responsible thing to do is to join those calling for review and to revise the plan to offer peace of mind to all involved,” Smith said in the letter. “I am hopeful you will initiate this process to expedite change before we experience another year of high flood waters. Your commitment to give scientists tools to proactively manage water levels and ensure equitable impacts from high water levels across the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario would greatly benefit our shared constituents.”