Rising lake levels on Niagara County minds as busy Memorial Day holiday approaches

May 20, 2019

There were high clouds, some blue sky and just a touch of warmth in the air along Lake Ontario Sunday in the beach resorts of Olcott and Wilson, but you did not have to look far out on the lake to realize how high the lake is...and rising.

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"It was a little longer. You can see it up there. It hasn't been repaired yet, so it was about 5' longer."

Newfane Supervisor Timothy Horanburg could look across his lawn toward the lake and see a fence mostly hanging in mid-air. That yard was shortened by the high water of two years go. If this summer is as bad as he fears, the edge of the cliff will be much closer to his house.

"The prediction is another 7"-8" and it's going to be really tough for us to handle," he said. "We're in pretty good shape right now. We had a little inkling of what was going to happen from 2017. We get any strong Northeast winds and above that 2017 level, we're going to be in a lot of trouble."

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The International Joint Commission has been criticized for allegedly making the lake rise worse. Horanburg said he is glad Jane Corwin has just been confirmed to a seat on the IJC because she formerly represented Newfane and Olcott in the New York State Assembly and understands the issues. The supervisor said he is going to invite her to come up and see what is going on.

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The supervisor lives very close to the commercial heart of the beach area and there were shoppers looking through an array of quaint shops and ice cream shops. Lakeside Ice Cream owner Cameron Webb said he is looking forward to the holiday weekend.

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"We've still had some people come down. We've had some locals come down. But we're just waiting for the people up in Buffalo to start coming down," said Webb. "As soon as the weather gets nicer, they'll be down here. As soon as that Carousel Park opens up, too, that brings down a lot of people, a lot of kids, and it's a good time when they all come down."

Behind the fence, workers in the Carousel Park could be seen during the afternoon cleaning things up and running the rides to test them, with Memorial Day weekend days away. Gift Box at the Beach co-owner Karen Young agreed, this is the run up to the busy season.

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"This is about average. Of course, next weekend is Memorial Day weekend and so that's when we really start getting busy," Young said, "because that's when the Carousel Park across the street opens up and the concerts start. Friday nights on the Boardwalk start. So that's when everything really really starts going. Starting next week, we're seven days a week. So our real schedule starts. We get real busy next weekend."

Olcott Beach has been officially closed, although in actuality, it is under water. Down the shore in Wilson, boat people did not want to talk much about the water levels, although it is clearly a problem. At the same time, anglers said it has been a great year so far, with lots of fish to catch.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Niagara County officials plan to provide an update on lake levels Monday at 11 a.m. at the Newfane Marina.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News