Working Together

Lake Alliance Gives Updates On Burtis Bay Cleanup

From Chautauqua Place in Celoron, the site of the weed mass that killed thousands of fish in Burtis Bay last fall shows itself through the thawing ice in Chautauqua Lake. A site assessment is scheduled for the end of March, and multiple lake organizations will assist with a cleanup later in the spring. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

STOW — A sickly green hue continues to shimmer beneath the melting ice of Burtis Bay, and members of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance intend to do something about that soon.

In November 2018, invasive Eurasian milfoil and in-lake weed fragments trapped thousands of fish in a biomass that stretched along the Chautauqua Lake shores of Celoron residences and suffocated the animals from the lake bottom to the surface.

“We were all disappointed last fall when the winter weather closed in before we could proceed with remediation of the excessive weed accumulation of Burtis Bay and the resulting extensive fish kill,” Pierre Chagnon, an alliance director, said.

A cleanup was then planned for spring, and Chautauqua County and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation committed to having their dollars spent as soon as possible to get the situation resolved. A cleanup project this spring is projected to cost less than a $73,870 fall cleanup since some macrophyte material has since decomposed in the months following the fish kill.

Alliance Executive Director Erin Brickley announced that a site assessment of Burtis Bay is tentatively planned for the end of March and that a cleanup will occur “as soon after ice-off as possible” in the spring.

The county will be using the 2 percent occupancy tax funding reserve from 2018 to help fund $25,870 of the total cleanup. The community foundation will provide approximately $28,000 for the total cleanup.

Chautauqua Lake Association employees and harvesting machinery are planned to collect the plant debris in conjunction with Mobitrac harvesting equipment purchased recently by Chautauqua County and the town of Chautauqua. Town of Ellicott employees will help transport the debris away when the spring cleanup eventually occurs.

At the bimonthly public alliance meeting Thursday, County Executive George Borrello also gave an update regarding the county’s work with Ecology and Environment on a memorandum of understanding that is being planned to unite all Chautauqua Lake stakeholders with one comprehensive consensus strategy.

“We are in the last stages of putting this all together,” Borrello said. “I’m really happy that we were able to interview several stakeholders.”

After another meeting with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation today to go over details of the memo, the county government will tentatively officially release the finished document by the end of March. A deadline will then be enforced in order for governments and lake nonprofits to sign onto the memo. Unless there are glaring factual errors, the memo will not be revised.

“I think that’s a slippery slope for a number of reasons,” Borrello explained.

“I believe we’ve done a deep enough dive. … It’s to show the outside world that we can work together.”

He said the creation process should lead to a final draft being something all groups can come together on through compromise. Borrello had said when he announced the initiative for this strategy that not all groups will get 100 percent of what members may want, but that it should provide a strategy for lake management that involves a combination of weed harvesting, herbicide treatments, stormwater management and environmental preservation through science-based evidence.

Some member organizations, including the CLA and Chautauqua Lake Partnership, are eager to see what the memo will look like. As the document and accompanying Clean Lakes Collaboration strategy will provide goals for 2019 and beyond, it could majorly impact the way lake maintenance and treatments change for the future

As this is being seen by many as the first step of a possible collaborative effort amongst all lake groups, some town and village governments are holding off on donating to individual lake organizations until the memo is passed and the aftermath of it is known; some municipalities are enforcing one line item for Chautauqua Lake in budgets this year and want to wait to donate funds amongst different groups until it is known that they can work together.

CLA Executive Director Doug Conroe expressed his concern with how the memo has impacted the funding cycle already, citing that his organization needs more money as soon as possible in order to hire college students for part-time work to harvest weeds in the usual three crews during the summer season. At a Lakewood Village Board meeting earlier this week, Conroe shared his concerns publicly.

“We might very well find ourselves in a situation of not being able to hire the quantity of workers we need this summer,” Conroe said.

Borrello pointed out that the CLA could use reserve revenue or draw from an endowment fund in order to hire college workers early who might otherwise look for jobs elsewhere. As the CLA has had less funding success this year than in past years so far, Conroe said he’s wary of using money that might not be made back through fundraising and grant opportunities later in 2019. Borrello urged Conroe to “get … through rough waters” by digging into that money typically used by the CLA for emergencies.

“We don’t have enough money in reserves,” Conroe said.

According to the CLA’s most recent 990 form, the organization ended 2017 with $44,744 in revenue at the end of that year whereas the CLA ended 2016 with a deficit of $33,766, a $78,510 difference. It is unknown how much money the CLA ended with in 2018 as the process of filling out 990 forms takes months to perform.

In addition to revenue from 2017, the CLA ended that year with $774,851 in its endowment fund. While the CLA uses 3 percent of its endowment each year to ensure it remains for the indefinite future, the organization could use any amount of its endowment if needed.

“I think (hiring workers) would be an appropriate use of your resources,” Borrello said.

Conroe responded to that by saying the CLA’s mission could instead change and less services could be offered if workers are not hired. Conroe also supposed at the Lakewood Village Board meeting Monday that the CLA could primarily serve just the north basin of Chautauqua Lake since most donations come from government entities located along those shorelines. That, Conroe said, would be a last resort for his organization.

Chagnon said the memo is moving along as quickly as it can, and as funding for lake organizations and Chautauqua Lake’s welfare hang in the balance, each stakeholder anticipates the final draft to be released weeks from now.

Follow Eric Zavinski at twitter.com/EZavinski.

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