An Op-Ed Piece by City of Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow
When the water is rising—that’s when you find out who your true friends are. You never forget that friend who came to pump out your basement, move the camper to higher ground or stack heavy sandbags on your property to keep the flood waters at bay.
As the mayor of Oswego, I’m responsible for keeping area residents safe—at a time when rising water levels along Lake Ontario are our new normal.
That responsibility has risen along with the water: declaring states of emergency; issuing travel advisories; closing streets; shutting marinas; and trying to save homes and businesses. We’ve tried to be proactive in tackling the erosion, flooding and infrastructure damage, but it’s more than we can manage on our own.
We’ve needed that true friend to help—and we have found one in Governor Cuomo. He didn’t just show up with a bucket for bailing water; he’s sent people and equipment, from sandbags to AquaDams. And he’s stepped up with an action plan, called the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).
That plan came from his first-hand knowledge of the situation.
Back in the spring, the governor came up for a boat tour to assess flood damage and to ask me dozens of very specific questions.
I realized it was my chance to show him just how hard the flooding had hit us. Was he truly listening? What would his strategy be?
Not long after, we had our answer, when Governor Cuomo assembled the state’s REDI response. The leaders and stakeholders who know our region best were deputized to identify our greatest needs.
A series of public meetings resulted in immediate and long-term action plans to help Oswego and other shoreline communities. The REDI Commission selected critical projects to receive $300 million in state aid for the eight affected Lake Ontario counties, with an additional $15 million for regional dredging.
Governor Cuomo recently returned to Oswego to announce 31 projects that will aid the most vulnerable areas of Oswego and Cayuga counties.
The Oswego-specific projects include:
A $6.5 million International Pier Project in the city of Oswego that will create a pedestrian-friendly waterfront space and connect to a city walking trail.
A $6.1 million Wright’s Landing Marina Project in the city of Oswego that will elevate the marina, improve boardwalk resilience, add landscaping, a restaurant and more.
A $4.8 million County Route 89 Project in the town of Oswego that will extend the existing sanitary sewer network to new housing for SUNY Oswego, as well as to the Lake Shore commercial district, collecting wastewater from dozens of properties.
A $500,000 Camp Hollis Project in the town of Oswego that will address shoreline stabilization to prevent septic system overflow and protect the public health and safety of participants in the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau summer camp program.
The project list, which goes on, addresses many of the issues I flagged to the governor months ago, on that spring boat tour. Not only did he listen; he took fast action.
That action has helped our region move from fear to hope.
Private businesses now have access to $30 million in much- needed assistance. Homeowners can tap a $20 million pool in flood recovery funding.
The governor’s also taking on the International Joint Commission (IJC), the bi-national entity whose Plan 2014 contributed to rising lake waters, through a state lawsuit that seeks compensatory damages for flood victims.
True friends are the ones who listen well, help you in times of need and then help you stand on your own. Governor Cuomo’s response to the new normal of Lake Ontario flooding is helping Oswego do just that. For us, REDI stands for resiliency—and for friendship.