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‘We’re pretty resilient folks up here’: 1000 Islands tourism on rising water levels

‘We’re pretty resilient folks up here’: 1000 Islands Tourism on rising water levels
WATCH: New York tourism fears recent floods will steer potential tourists away from the area.

The flooding of 2017 and 2019 along the St. Lawrence River devastated many Ontario and New York state residents. The result has left the tourism industry picking up the pieces.

One of the areas along the river that was most impacted was the 1000 islands region, which saw homes flooded, docks destroyed, and deteriorating shorelines. Because of this, images began circulating throughout social media and television of the high water levels and the destruction that it caused.

Eastern Ontario mayors demand IJC reduce river and lake water levels
Eastern Ontario mayors demand IJC reduce river and lake water levels

Now, the director of the 1000 Islands Tourism Council in Alexandria Bay, N.Y. is trying to show potential tourists that, through the floods, the area has remained open to tourists.

“Believe us when we say we’re open and operating because we’re pretty resilient folks up here,” said Corey Fram, director of tourism for 1000 Islands.

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Fram says the recent flooding of the area has caused uncertainty for potential tourists and that it may steer them away from vacationing near the river.

“Anecdotally, some of our businesses are getting questions, such as, ‘should we cancel our reservations?’, or, ‘should I get my tickets redeemed?’ But our stats show a small growth,” said Fram.

He continued to say that even though tourism in the area is slightly increasing, the area is not growing at the same rate as other New York communities.
The lack of growth has led many businesses in Alexandria Bay, Clayton, N.Y., and Cape Vincient, N.Y. to increase marketing to attract tourists who may feel the area is no longer a stable destination, according to Fram.

READ MORE: Ottawa invests $50M in flood-prevention measures in Quebec

“Most of the tourist businesses stepped up their marketing games a little bit to get that true message out that they have made adjustments and are being resilient and are ready to serve,” said Fram.

One of those businesses is Bonnie Castle Marina in Alexandria Bay. Global News spoke to the manager of the marina, Norm Hutchinson, about the recent flooding and the impacts it has had on the businesses and he was quick to mention that through his 37 years at the resort he has rarely seen any water levels close to what he has seen over the past three years.

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“We’re fortunate that we have higher docks than most,” said Hutchinson.

This year, he continued, many people chose not to take out their go-fast boats because of the high water levels and the no-wake zone that came with it.

“Even though we didn’t have any available spots, we did have less people on the water which impacted our gas dock,” said Hutchinson.

READ MORE: Much needed Saint-Leonard flood relief drowning in bureaucratic blame game

According to Fram, the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council conducted a survey polling local attractions, outfitters, marinas, fishing charter operators, lodging properties and restaurants in the Council’s database.

The results of the survey found 80 percent of tourism stakeholders experienced negative impacts of the high water levels, with 61 percent of those surveyed, rating the effects as more severe than from 2017’s similar high water levels.

Over the past month, Global News has spoken to many residents, businesses and politicians who point the finger at Plan2014. The International Joint Commission introduced the plan months before the 2017 floods, replacing Plan 1958-D. IJC regulates water outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam near Cornwall Ont., which can lower and raise the water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

On Sept. 27th, Global News spoke to Pierre Berland, the Canadian Chair of the IJC, and when he was asked why the outflows are not increased to lower water levels, he explained that the water levels must be balanced on both sides of the dam and because of record rainfall in 2017, it’s been challenging.

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“We have to be careful not to flood people downstream while trying to pump the water from someone’s basement on Lake Ontario, and actually dump it into someone’s basement in Montreal,” said Beland.

READ MORE: Heavy rain leads to flooding, difficult road conditions in Montreal

New York State has put $300 million towards infrastructure improvements along the shores from Niagara, up through the St. Lawrence River, according to Fram. Several business owners and residents of Alexandria Bay told Global News that they are concerned that flooding in 2020 will be worse than both 2017 and 2019.

The IJC released a statement on Oct. 1st telling municipalities that it is currently investigating a number of options to further reduce water levels further ahead of next spring.