For The Lake, It’s Put Up Or Shut Up Time

Perhaps the worst fear of those who organized the Chautauqua Lake Watershed and Management Alliance has come true — one member entity has sued another member entity.

While the Chautauqua Lake Partnership was not named in Chautauqua Institution’s recent Article 78 lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the town of Ellery, it was the CLP that has been the driving force behind use of herbicides first in Bemus Bay in 2017 and then in parts of North Harmony, Busti and Ellery in 2018. And, the Ellery Town Board’s decision to take on the costly and time-consuming SEIS process was made to help a group of town residents who were trying to deal with lake weeds that were choking off their access to Chautauqua Lake. It’s clear that the institution’s action takes aim squarely at the Chautauqua Lake Partnership’s efforts over the past two summers. Then, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy issued a statement of support for the institution’s actions. To make matters worse, the town of Busti has chosen not to support projects in the village of Lakewood because of the village’s stance earlier this summer on herbicide treatments off the shores of Lakewood — and both the town and the village are also members of the alliance.

There are many good people involved with the Chautauqua Lake Watershed and Management Alliance, and the alliance has done some good work over its history. But one has to wonder what the inability to manage the tensions among the alliance’s competing organizations means for the future of Chautauqua Lake as battle lines are being drawn among member organizations. How does an organization that operates on consensus lead on the most controversial issue to come before it? How does an organization make a decision, or even discuss issues, that are the center of lawsuits among member organizations?

There will never be a campfire moment in which everyone magically agrees on the best way to make Chautauqua Lake a world class lake for fishing, boaters, swimmers and all of the species that call Chautauqua Lake home. The number of organization with vested interests is simply too diverse. Such a diverse membership makes governing by consensus nearly impossible. We know from past experience that an organization is needed to manage Chautauqua Lake. Someone needs to be out finding grants. Someone needs to come up with a yearly plan for Chautauqua Lake restoration and maintenance. Someone has to make tough decisions about courses of action and the amounts of money to be spent on those courses of action.

After last week, we’re not sure that organization exists. We are in the same place we were at least 10 years ago. This really is mind-boggling that the same conversation and controversy has gone on for more than a decade. What’s that old definition of “crazy” — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

One of the points Chautauqua Institution raises in its lawsuit is Ellery’s leadership of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process. It’s important to note that Ellery took the lead on the SEIS because no one else had done so despite recent plans being completed for Chautauqua Lake, including the Macrophye Management Plan that was finished in 2017. It made little sense that the Macrophyte Management Plan stated areas where herbicides could be used in the lake and stopped short of an environmental impact study. A town had to lead the process because neither the leading lake organization nor the county chose to do so. A group of property owners upset with the condition of Bemus Bay chose to try a new course of action in their area of the lake because they felt their bay was languishing under the old treatment plans.

Someone has had to step into a leadership void when it comes to Chautauqua Lake. It is put up or shut up time. Lead, or get out of the way.