Mayor Isbester, MP Sloan join rally against rising water levels

High water levels on the Napanee River at Centre Street in Napanee. (File photo).

Adam Prudhomme

Local politicians from both the federal and municipal level joined neighbouring MPs and mayors in Quinte West on Wednesday to throw their support behind the Rally to Repeal Plan 2014.

Hastings Lennox Addington MP Derek Sloan, Greater Napanee mayor Marg Isbester, Loyalist mayor Ric Breese and Tyendinaga Mohawk chief Donald Maracle were among those gathered to speak out against rising flood waters.

The rally, which drew about 300 people to the Duncan McDonald Community Gardens, was the latest step by communities along Lake Ontario to call for action from the International Joint Commission. Known as the IJC, the commission is in charge of controlling the dam outflows along the Great Lakes. 

Those in attendance were calling for the IJC to abandon their current policy, known as Plan 2014, which they say is responsible for the heavy flood damages that have been seen in 2017 and 2019. 

“As has been demonstrated recently, Plan 2014 has not protected the Lakeshore communities or the upper river communities and shoreline property owners from devastating damages under high supply conditions,” Dr. Frank Sciremammano, a former member of the St. Lawrence River Board, told the audience via video link. “In fact, it’s not designed to do so and that’s why it didn’t.”

“This was done under the, I believe mistaken, assumption that it would benefit the wetlands around the lake and the river,” continued Sciremammano. “And under the further mistaken and hopefully discredited assumption that was utilized during the study that the major beneficiary of the St. Lawrence project were land owners around the lake and the communities and that they could easily afford to take on damages since they had such a large benefit (of living on the waterfront). Hopefully that’s been discredited by now.”

There’s an added pressure to have the plan repealed by spring 2020 as early projections say there’s a 50 per cent chance the water levels could be just as high in May 2020 as they were in May of this year. 

“The number one issue I have heard about from mayors and chiefs, constituents and stakeholders has been about high water levels,” said Sloan. “As we speak water levels are at the highest levels possible heading into what is now being forecasted as a potentially very heavy level of precipitation this winter. This is not a partisan issue as my fellow MPs have pointed out here.”

Sloan was one of several area MPs who took the stage to voice their concerns. 

“The time has come for us to make it very clear to the federal government and the International Joint Commission that we will not stand for this,” said Sloan. “I can tell you I will be working 100 per cent with my other shoreline colleagues to bring this to the attention of the federal government.”

Isbester says she’s not interested in pointing fingers, rather just pressuring the IJC to revert to their previous policy.

“We can’t go back and think about who has done what or what hasn’t been done,” said Isbester. “What we have to do is look forward and find out how it gets fixed. There’s going to be some pain but it has to be shared by everyone. You can’t just, for the sake of shipping, or for the sake of one area of the Great Lakes, sacrifice another with such great devastation.”

Isbester said even those who don’t live along the shore have felt the effects of flooding, whether it be in higher assessments or lost tourism dollars to the area. 

“As (Quinte West) mayor Jim Harrison said last night, how much did any of us receive from the federal government to help our residents?,” said Isbester. “To help with something that was caused by poor management? The answer was diddly-squat.”

Residents were urged to write letters to MPs, MPPs and the prime minister demanding the water levels be reduced. 

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