Lawsuit Alleges IJC's Failure to Respond to Record High Water Levels Exacerbated Damage to Residences and Businesses
IJC Must Compensate New York for the Destruction Its Mismanagement Has Caused on the Shores of Lake Ontario
Governor Cuomo: "The IJC's function is to manage the lake level - that is their job, to manage the lake level. They have failed to manage the lake level - period... Litigation is a last resort. It comes from frustration, it comes from the lack of responsiveness of the IJC, it comes from their clear negligence and from their series of excuses... It is a cry for help from the State of New York and our expression of frustration that they have done absolutely nothing to help New Yorkers deal with this situation. And it is unfair that we should be shouldered with over $1 billion in costs when the IJC has done absolutely nothing to reduce the damage to the State of New York."
This afternoon, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is filing a lawsuit against the International Joint Commission for its mismanagement of Lake Ontario water levels that caused catastrophic damage to shoreline communities. As a direct result of the IJC's mismanagement, extremely high water levels exacerbated damage to residences and businesses, swept away large swaths of the shoreline, and upended the lives of thousands of New Yorkers twice in the past three years. Property owners have suffered severe erosion and loss of vegetation, while the State sustained more than $4 million in property damage that it still has not been able to fully repair. The lawsuit argues that the IJC must compensate the State for the destruction resulting from water level mismanagement.
AUDIO of the Governor's comments is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Thank you. Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be at Silk O'Laughlin's today and a beautiful day. We have been here when it was not quite as beautiful and as beautiful as it is today is as destructive as it can be as we have all seen.
To Supervisor Reilich, you know, you see the character of a person when things are at their worst and when things are at their worst Supervisor Reilich has really stepped up to the plate and gotten his hands dirty and shown amazing leadership. And I want to applaud him and everyone else who has stood up and actually fought for their constituents and fought for the people of New York during the immediate aftermath of a storm, but even more making their voice heard to the IJC and not backing down and continuing to advocate. Thank you, Bill Reilich.
We have DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos who I believe is the best environmental commissioner in the country. He also happens to be an attorney which is especially helpful today in this lawsuit. So, thank you Basil. Let's give him a round of applause.
We have our Homeland Security Commissioner Pat Murphy who is here, who has done an outstanding job. You know, responding to these emergencies the way we do, this has never happened before in this state. This is the first time the state has been called on to do this. The first time we have had situations like this, and he has really delivered time and time again. Thank you very much, Pat Murphy.
We have my colleagues from the Assembly and the Senate who have been out there and been supportive and we have a record state relief package thanks to them. I would like to give them a round of applause.
And our Congressman Joe Morelle, former member of the New York State Assembly, he is now ascended in his opinion to the federal government. I would question whether that is an ascendancy or not. State government, we actually got things done. We actually produced for the people. I don't know that he can say that now, but it is a higher level of government, that's true. He has responded accordingly. He no longer returns my phone calls, the Congressman, friends for 30 years. To get him on the phone now I have to send a staff member to get in his vicinity, I get on the phone and then they just put the cell phone to the Congressman's ear, but even though he won't talk to me, whatever his district needs, you couldn't have a better advocate, a better champion, a better fighter, a person who actually delivers - Congressman Joe Morelle.
And we were just joined by the county executive - I'd like to welcome her. County Executive Dinolfo. The facts of the matter are plain, right? The IJC's function is to manage the lake level - that is their job, to manage the lake level. They have failed to manage the lake level - period. End of story. It was their job - they failed. They came up with a plan called the 2014 plan. Within weeks of the 2014 plan going into effect, which was actually in 2017, within weeks of their putting their plan into effect, we had the first flooding - the 2017 flooding. 248 feet. We have pleaded with the IJC to attend to the New York side of the issue. We have sent numerous pieces of correspondence. There have been meetings; there have been dialogues; there have been phone calls. The Congressman has been meeting with them. All sorts of officials have been meeting with the IJC. They have been wholly unresponsive and they have taken no action that has made the situation any better. We had dialogue for two years from 2017 to 2019.
What happens in 2019? There's another flood worse thatn the 2017 flood: 249 feet. After all the conversations. So, because of what the IJC has done, the State and the people of the State have sustained hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The 2017 flood, the state alone did about $170 million in flood relief. 2019, we spent about $50 million in emergency management relief. We then said we're now in the midst of doing $300 million - an unprecedented amount from the state - to do long-term resiliency, because we do believe this is going to be the new normal and the state is paying that amount. That is without the amount of money that the county has spent, that the town has spent. That's without the money spent by the private homeowners and the private businesses. The cost to the State of New York for these two floods will be easily over $1 billion when all the numbers are accounted. Why should New Yorkers pay that $1 billion? You know when the state gives funding, that funding comes from the people of the State of New York. That's tax dollars that they are spending, and literally it's going to be above $1 billion.
So, today we announce a lawsuit. Litigation is a last resort. It comes from frustration, it comes from the lack of responsiveness of the IJC, it comes from their clear negligence and from their series of excuses. That's all you get from the IJC are excuses. "Well we have to balance the need between shipping and between the lake levels. We have to balance the need between New York and Canada. Well Mother Nature and climate change is the problem." No - the problem is the IJC. Those are factors, but at the end of the day, it was the IJC's job to manage those factors. That was their function. Manage the balance between shipping and flooding. Manage the balance between New York and Canada. Manage the inflow from climate change. That was their function and they have failed again, and again and again.
The lawsuit is a hard case - I will tell you that. This is an international entity and it is going to be a difficult case for us to make, but it is our last resort. We have tried everything else. It is a cry for help from the State of New York and our expression of frustration that they have done absolutely nothing to help New Yorkers deal with this situation. And it is unfair that we should be shouldered with over $1 billion in costs when the IJC has done absolutely nothing to reduce the damage to the State of New York.
I'm proud of what the state is doing. I'm proud of the way we've responded with our partners to the emergencies. I'm proud of the way the first responders have operated. I'm proud that we're now doing $300 million in resiliency. We are a step ahead. We do believe this is going to happen again and we want to stop future damage, and I'd rather invest $300 million in resiliency than pay $200 million to repair damages that are just going to happen over, and over and over again. But we need help. It is unfair for New Yorkers to shoulder this burden. We've said that a number of ways. There's been no response hence the decision today to bring legal action against the IJC.
The old expression is "I'm tired of getting the short end of the stick." New York has gotten the short end of the stick from the IJC time, and time and time again. My job is to fight for the people of the State of New York. That's what I am hired and elected to do, and that's what we are going to do. I'm tired of getting the short end of the stick, which in this case the analog is tired of getting the high end of the lake. There's no reason why New Yorkers should have to deal with this the way we've had to deal with it. And that's what this lawsuit expresses.
Thank you all for everything you have done. We're going to get through this. We're going to get better for it. We're going to make the shoreline better for it. I just want to make sure that our costs are fairly accounted for. But thank you all very much.