Rising water on Lake Ontario threatens to swamp summer business – newyorkupstate.com


Fair Haven, N.Y. — Ten days before the unofficial start of summer, Little Sodus Bay is eerily quiet.

Instead of cruising the 2-mile-long bay, boats remain wrapped in their blue plastic winter coats because high water in Lake Ontario has swamped docks in the bay and beyond.

“We’re coming up on a holiday weekend, and my barn is three-quarters full and my yard is three-quarters full,” said Bayside Marina owner Scott Nash, standing near a land-locked fleet of boats behind the marina. “If this is going to be the new normal, I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”

As water levels on the lake creep up, threatening to exceed the record set just two years ago, residents and businesses along the lake worry not just about immediate damage from the water, but the long-lasting impact on the boating and tourist economy.

“It affects our marinas. It affects our downtown stores,” said Walter Krehling, deputy mayor of this Cayuga County village. “It’s a major problem.”

The 800-person village swells to 2,000 in the summer, Krehling said, and marinas, stores and restaurants depend on those visitors.

Krehling drove the village’s electric hybrid SUV along the shore of Little Sodus Bay, pointing out where water is lapping at former boathouses now converted to year-round residences. He points to dock after dock, all partially or totally submerged beneath the high water. One, he notes, is still a few inches above the water line.

“This dock will be under water in three days,” he predicts.

Thousands of white sandbags line the shores, but in many places the water is seeping through and creeping over them. At Turtle Cove Restaurant, the outdoor seating area is encircled by a line of sandbags. If you look closely at the side of the building, you can still see the mud from the high water line in 2017.

Even residents who thought they were prepared after 2017 find themselves pumping and bailing water. Pete Klein erected a 30-inch-high, steel seawall in November around his house on the bay, but that hasn’t stopped lake water from infiltrating his three-season room or rainwater from cascading down the hill toward his house.

Next to his house, a 120-foot dock of a defunct marina juts out from shore, the last two-thirds of the dock beneath the water. Klein points past the dock to the quiet bay.

“May is usually huge for boating,” he said. “Do you see any boats anywhere now?”

There’s no end in sight to the rising waters and flooding threat. High winds could generate 3 to 4-foot high waves Friday, according to the National Weather Service. And while the rain has eased up for awhile, most of the water that flows into Lake Ontario comes from Lake Erie, which is at record high levels. Ontario could rise several more inches, experts say.

“Everybody is on edge looking to see if it goes higher,” said Fair Haven Mayor James Basile.

Basile lives on the water, and the water has come over his seawall.

“The sandbag wall is the only thing between me and the lake now,” he said.

To protect lakeside buildings from inundation, Cayuga County has declared a state of emergency, and imposed no-wake zones along the shorelines of Lake Ontario and Little Sodus Bay.

Meanwhile, residents and business owners wait, prepare and hope. At Bayside Grocery, just two blocks from Little Sodus Bay, there hasn’t been a drop in business yet, said cashier Reanne Williams.

“The closer we get to Memorial Day weekend, the more we’ll be able to tell,” Williams said.

If the no-wake zone persists, she said, boaters would likely avoid the area.

“It could substantially hurt business if something like that were to happen,” she said.

Over at Bayside Marina, Scott Nash, who has worked at the marina since he graduated from high school, is doing what he can. Nash has laid new plywood docks on top of the nearly submerged ones, raising them a foot or more above water level. But without boats plying the bay, the docks remain mostly empty.

Nash said three customers have told him they’re not going to put their boats in the water at all this year, and he fears more will follow. That means he’ll do fewer tune-ups and repairs, and sell fewer supplies.

“It’s going to be a long summer,” he said.

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