County Legislature Hears Burtis Bay Fish Kill Woes

MAYVILLE — Mike and Peggy Newell have become more well-known in Chautauqua County, but not due to anything they had ever expected or predicted.

The fish kill in Burtis Bay in Celoron, which amassed dozens of feet of invasive Eurasian milfoil weeds and thousands of various dead species of fish starting in early November, further came to the attention of the Chautauqua County Legislature when the Newells and a representative, Project Advisor Paul Johnson, from the Chautauqua Lake Partnership addressed legislators last week.

“We all need to be stewards of this lake,” Peggy Newell said in her address to the legislature. “We look to our county and other government officials as well as to the (Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance) to lead us in looking for long-term solutions. Something needs to be done to ensure the future of our lake. If not, we may look back on this time as the beginning of the end for Chautauqua Lake.”

After representatives from county government, the alliance, CLP and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation learned more about the fish kill after a visit a week after the incident, the Chautauqua Lake Association, the nonprofit organization in charge of harvesting weeds in Chautauqua Lake, initially agreed to a special fall cleanup of the weeds that had piled up in Burtis Bay.

Early winter weather delayed that proposal, so the CLA announced in a recent press release that the group plans on executing a cleanup “as early as weather and budget permits.” CLA officials cited safety for their workers as the primary concern. Funding is planned to come from emergency action of the legislature to augment special grants from The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation.

Before weather interrupted CLA’s plans, the legislature had prepared to vote on an emergency resolution to allocate $25,870 from the 2 percent occupancy tax funding reserve to help clean up the bay this fall.

The formerly planned cleanup would have seen the CLA remobilize their workers and equipment during the off-season to specifically remove weeds from the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel’s shores through the Ellicott Shores Apartments waters and the buildup behind the Newells’ residence to the waters behind the local baseball field. For a special fall cleanup, the project would have cost $73,870.

All of those areas may still be given first priority when CLA can begin a cleanup as early as can prove practical in the spring. Peggy Newell said she hopes the amount of money isn’t required in full since the cleanup has been moved to the spring, closer to when the CLA would normally begin weed harvesting. CLA President Paul Stage said it’s likely the project would cost less if completed in the spring.

“We are hopeful that over the winter, due diligence will be done and that a specific and effective plan will be readied,” Peggy Newell said, “so that as soon as ice is out, cleanup can begin. We are also hopeful that this money will be wisely and efficiently spent doing a complete cleanup in the designated areas.”

To bolster his wife’s comments, Mike Newell offered some suggestions for how the issues of weed growth and harmful algal blooms could be further addressed in the future. He cited data collected by the DEC and Environmental Protection Agency that describes the total maximum daily load for phosphorus, the nutrient that encourages growth of the weeds and blooms, in Chautauqua Lake in 2012.

Mike Newell quoted the document as saying, “approximately 3,300 pounds of wet plants need to be harvested to remove one pound of phosphorus.”

He then went on to say that the estimated weed mass in Burtis Bay would decompose if not quickly taken care of and could potentially contribute to 1,000 added pounds of phosphorus, with each pound of the nutrient feeding 500 pounds of algae and weed growth at most.

With that in mind, Mike Newell said lake management should start earlier in the spring and last far into autumn. He also suggested “outside-the-box” management strategies such as weed booms, skimmer equipment and an increased emphasis on volunteer work to take care of weeds.

Stage said that a project is being discussed with Air & Earth Design Services located in Albany to implement a dredging proposal that would allow areas that cannot be adequately addressed by CLA harvesting to be cleared of weeds, specifically the densely packed lake bottom at the Burtis Bay shore.

“We have concluded that the risk to the workers and equipment is now too great to allow work to proceed for the foreseeable future,” Stage summarized in a press release.

Johnson said that since the cleanup has been delayed to spring, he recommends on behalf of the CLP that the alliance “prepare a request for proposals and a list of qualified contractors and solicit competitive cleanup plans, costs and schedules” from all possible, interested organizations. He noted that competition should ensure tax dollars and foundation contributions get utilized as efficiently as possible.

The Newells and Johnson thanked the alliance, legislature and all other groups that contributed to plans for a cleanup. Legislators and Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello also expressed gratitude that a plan of action could be ironed out so efficiently.

“We hope the same attention and urgency will be applied from now on to prevent the proliferation of the weeds and fragments which are the source of these problems,” Johnson said.

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