It is being called REDI: the Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative. The multi-agency task force was introduced during a conference call with Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday to help communities along the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shorelines deal with high water levels.
This year's water levels are comparable to levels from two years ago that caused widespread flooding damage. Cuomo noted that while it may be more expensive initially, it is better to build appropriate infrastructure rather than continuing to replace that which is damaged during each flooding event.
"Build in a resilent way to a new environmental reality, rather than replacing what was," Cuomo said. "Build what should be for the future and do it through a lens of an economic development opportunity for the community."
Cuomo said the high water levels are representative of a new reality, and that the state legislature would need to determine how much to spend on the initiative. He said REDI is also tasked with developing a package of new actions, ranging from legislative changes to aid packages to executive actions.
Co-chair of the new commission will be Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky of Buffalo. Zemsky noted that tourism is among the most affected industries in the state by the high waters.
"The tourism economy has been very robust across the state. This is one of the largest employment sectors in New York State. It's been growing rapidly, over $100 billion of economic impact," Zemsky said. "I live Upstate and know the impact that the lake has on the tourism economy and the interesting thing about tourism is that all of the attractions and destinations work together synergistically."
Other state REDI members are Co-chair and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado,Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito, Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, New York Dormitory Authority President and CEO Gerrard Bushell, Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas, Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez and Parks and Historic Preservation Acting Commissioner Erik Kulleseid.
In 2017, when flooding caused widespread damage along the lake, the state provided more than $100 million in funding to victims.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand are also urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stand ready to quickly approve any request from New York State for a major disaster declaration for communities affected by flooding.
"The feds must stand ready to immediately step in and do everything they can to help,” said Schumer. “With the risk of further damages escalating by the day, we must have all hands on deck.”
The senators noted in their letter that eight New York counties, including Niagara and Orleans, are under a state-imposed declaration of emergency.
"The flooding is forcing businesses to shut down, is damaging property and public infrastructure, and has eroded away land and shoreline protections," the letter states. "Even after Lake Ontario’s water level crests, it will take many weeks throughout the remaining summer months for the water to drop which may likely make it difficult to get a full accounting of damage incurred."
On Tuesday, high water levels and winds caused flooding on Edgemere Drive in Greece. Karen Marsh wore pink canvas gloves as she wrestled with debris in her yard.
"Came back an hour and a half later and my entire home had water all the way around it. It’s not something I would want for anyone," Marsh said.
The water on Edgemere receded, but left behind are truckloads of sand and dirt, debris from the lake and garbage.