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N.Y.'s Sodus Bay Gets $20M to Fix Breakwall for Protection Against Lake Ontario

Tue February 07, 2023 - Northeast Edition
Spectrum News & Finger Lakes Times

Winter is the quiet season in upstate New York's Sodus Bay, a place known mainly for what happens in the summer.

"We draw people from all over the northeastern United States," said Tim Habecker of Krenzer Marine. "They come here for wonderful summer recreation."

Along the largest freshwater bay on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, the protection of the villages of Sodus Point and Huron, on opposite sides of Sodus Bay, also has become a major issue.

"It's unique both for its beauty and for its protection," said Don Riling, president of Save Our Sodus, told Spectrum News in late January. "So, if the lake has 12-ft. waves on it, you can sail here in [Sodus Bay]."

Now, however, the 50-year-old breakwall protecting Sodus Bay is crumbling and has taken on the appearance of Swiss cheese.

"If you look along the whole wall, the area straight ahead of us is among the worst," Sodus Point Mayor Dave McDowell pointed out to a Spectrum News TV reporter. "When you're up close you can see right through it.

He added that the deteriorating wall is the only buffer between a raging winter lake and this summer hot spot.

"Without that protection, we would all be [living in] a lakeshore community and the property here just cannot survive that," said Sodus Point resident Kristy Fowler Ritter.

"If it [collapses] and we have a big northeast storm, this part of the village is gone," noted McDowell. "These walls will not hold up to the waves that the lake generates."

N.Y. Senator Secures Funding for Breakwall Repairs

Despite that gloomy prospect, however, the good news is that help is on the way.

In early January, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York announced $20 million in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to make critical repairs to the breakwall protecting homes and businesses around Sodus Bay in Wayne County, capping years of effort on his part.

The USACE and state officials have said the repairs are most needed on damaged sections of the east breakwall to ensure the bay, the channel and shorelines are adequately protected, according to the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, N.Y.

"I visited Lake Ontario in the wake of far too many floods that devastated the homes, businesses and families of the community, and promised I would not stop fighting until … Sodus Bay received the funding it desperately needed to restore its aging breakwalls and barriers," Schumer said. "This $20 million is the down payment Lake Ontario communities have desperately needed to make critical repairs ... to stop devastating floods like those that have been plaguing the [area] for years."

He added the USACE's Buffalo District will now complete project design and scoping at Sodus Bay, followed by the repair of more than 1,000 ft. of crumbling sections of the breakwall.

The bay is a "critical harbor of refuge" and home to a U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary station, Schumer said in a statement, and called the town of Sodus Point an "economic engine for the region." He noted it is home to approximately 50 charter boats and five boat launches, and generates $9.5 million in revenues through accommodations, restaurants, retail, boat repair, and other services and industries, with more than 100 jobs tied to those areas.

"All property owners around Great Sodus Bay appreciate Sen. Schumer's attention and perseverance in getting money allocated to repair the east breakwater," McDowell said. "These monies will assure the safety of many homes and businesses around the bay."

Breakwall Likely to Fail Without Repairs

News of the new funding for the breakwall was a post-Christmas surprise for those living and working on Sodus Bay and comes in the wake of severe flooding in recent years, including 2017, and again in 2019.

Tom Frank owns Captain Jack's, a bar and restaurant where flood waters came right up through the building's floorboards.

"It was really bad," he told Spectrum News, "and you sit there and say, 'Are we going to go through this year after year?'"

Many people who live around the bay said the flooding only made the breakwall situation worse.

Riling recalled a recent conversation he had with one of the structure's original engineers — a wall built in the 1970s. After looking at the breakwall, the engineer confirmed that it was in "terrible condition." When Riling asked what the odds were that it would fail, the engineer predicted that if nothing happened to soon fix the breakwall, a collapse was likely.

Despite years of asking the federal government for money to fix the problem, though, it never came, McDowell said, because Sodus Point was not a commercial port, adding, "We're at the bottom of the totem pole."

That was the case, anyway, until Schumer's announcement.

Rebuilding the Sodus Bay breakwall is now projected to get under way in 2024, Spectrum News reported.

The project's funding comes in addition to other money Schumer has secured for protection of lakeshore homes and the bay, including $4.5 million in 2020 for the USACE to repair and rebuild the battered Charles Point barrier beach breakwall in 2021.

"I will continue to fight tooth and nail to see [the Sodus Bay breakwater] project through to completion to ensure Lake Ontario's tourism industry and homes are protected, and that residents have the peace of mind they deserve," the senator added.

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