Alliance Responds To Incident

The Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance hosted its bimonthly public meeting. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

STOW — Members of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance responded to news of a massive fish kill that impacted residents along the shoreline of Burtis Bay in Celoron this week.

“This is a situation that’s just horrible,” said Mike Newell, resident of 10 Chautauqua Place, who first observed large amounts of dying fish trapped in the weeds behind his house Sunday.

Jim Wehrfritz, Chautauqua Lake Partnership vice president, spoke in support of herbicide treatments, a concept that he said was criticized for harming fish populations. He said that there has been no proof that fish have been killed due to herbicide treatments in other areas this year, but that physical evidence of fish dying due to weeds has been shown in the case of Burtis Bay in which no herbicides were used to treat the waters.

Multiple alliance members said the Chautauqua Lake Association has worked hard to harvest weeds this summer season but added that their capacity to collect and get rid of the biomass is not enough to handle the situation.

“We got to do something different,” Wehrfritz said. “This is an environmental disaster. It doesn’t need to happen.”

Members of the board of directors spoke with other representatives of member organizations to entertain the notion of hosting an emergency meeting with state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean; Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown; and the commissioner of the ninth district of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to allocate contingency funding for the issue.

Doug Conroe, executive director of the CLA, said that there might not be much that could be done about the dead fish and weeds until the spring. Talks of mobilizing a special cleanup initiative were also brought to the floor.

“It could be a major problem going forward,” Conroe said. “The answer is very simple: money.”

The need for funding was the underlying theme for the meeting, as various projects were considered for grant requests. Eight projects were picked for the alliance to ask for funding from the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation and Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.

Some members discussed the further allocation of state funds and said that the process of member organizations, including municipalities and lake groups, individually requesting funds won’t work as well as the alliance creating a consolidated approach to ask for funds as one entity.

Wehrfritz suggested the alliance, CLA and CLP come together to create a project proposal to address the fish kill. This resulted in confusion among the board of directors and members. While Conroe and Wehrfritz called for the alliance to mobilize the cleanup, alliance Director Pierre Chagnon noted that it was discouraging that member organizations were “turning their back on the alliance.”

“You are now in the driver’s seat,” Conroe said to Chagnon.

He continued to clarify that he and other member organizations will continue to help in ways they can but admitted there is no going forward with special projects until consensus is reached at the leadership level of the alliance.

Chagnon expressed some surprise at the weight of the task. By adjournment, it wasn’t clear what the direction of the alliance was in regard to this situation, and Newell received no clear-cut answer as to how the alliance might proceed in remedying the fish kill in his backyard.

John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations at Chautauqua Institution, called how he perceived as other member organizations putting all the responsibility on Chagnon and the alliance leadership as “pathetic.”

“We’re all responsible for this lake,” Shedd said.

Jim Cirbus, CLP president, disagreed with Shedd and also criticized Chautauqua Institution for their ongoing lawsuit against the DEC and town of Ellery, another member organization of the alliance. Cirbus said there might be more money to tackle issues on the lake without the lawsuit in place.

“The whole dynamic has changed,” Conroe said in response as he tried to explain that the member organizations didn’t want to act on their own without a plan of action from alliance leadership.

Various alliance members expressed concern with the fish kill, with Conroe noting that something like it hasn’t happened in a long time. Newell said he has never seen anything like the fish kill in the 32 years he has resided along Chautauqua Lake in Burtis Bay.

Regarding lake conditions in a lecture delivered by Dr. Gregory Boyer on Wednesday, global climate change was brought up as a factor that could further exasperate the problems of blue-green algae and the related problem of weeds in Chautauqua Lake. Climate change is thought to contribute to longer growing seasons with warmer falls and overall calmer winds that could lead extraordinary situations like the fish kill in Burtis Bay to become more commonplace.

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