Two and a half years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke passionately and factually about the value of healthy wetlands. Highlighting the state’s efforts in the New York City area after Hurricane Sandy, he said, “We devalued the purpose of vacant land, wetlands, around the body of water. And, we really just trampled on it. A wetland is called a wetland for a reason.”
His comments remain powerful today as a plan to restore healthy wetlands along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River awaits the approval of the U.S. and Canadian governments. And, we need his support.
Environmental considerations were never part of the planning process when the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam and the St. Lawrence shipping channel were built in the 1950s. As a result, outdated dam operations have caused significant losses to the upper St. Lawrence River’s wetlands, biodiversity and habitat. For this reason, American Rivers named the St. Lawrence River one of America’s 10 most endangered rivers earlier this year — the only one in New York.
In response to the ongoing devastation, a new approach to the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam operations was formulated. This approach, called Plan 2014, will increase wet meadow acreage by 40 percent, northern pike populations by 39 percent, and black tern populations by 16 percent. It will boost annual hydroelectric power production by $5.3 million, and annual recreational activity along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario by $9.1 million. Each of these benefits comes at no cost to taxpayers.
The plan was devised with the input of more than 180 stakeholder representatives, and referred to the two federal governments two years ago by the International Joint Commission.
Cuomo has received more than 22,000 petition signatures, letters and postcards in support of the plan, as well as letters from 42 environmental conservation and sportsmen organizations and 35 businesses and community leaders. Furthermore, former Gov. David Paterson and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis expressed support for Plan 2014’s precursor.
The governor, though, has been silent about the enactment of Plan 2014.
When I listen again to the governor’s words about the value of healthy wetlands, I remain inspired. Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the North Country deserve the same consideration as the New York City area. These wetlands must be restored, and Cuomo must take action now to support Plan 2014.