Proposed Lakewood Projects Only Tinker Around Lake Issues

Lakewood Village Board members were put in a difficult position recently when asked to approve an environmentally friendly package of projects on Chautauqua Avenue.

The Chautauqua Ave. Green Main Street Retrofit project has a price tag of $772,000, $695,000 of which will come from a Green Innovation Grant Program through the New York State Facilities Corporation. A local match of $77,000 is required, with Lakewood eligible for a $450,000 no-interest loan from Chautauqua County to pay for the local cost.

Board members ended up approving the project by a 3-1 vote. Trustee Ellen Barnes raised valid concerns about the project’s potential impact to Chautauqua Avenue businesses when the work begins and about the village’s ability to pay its loan from the county. We agree with Barnes’ concerns, particularly when considering the number of times village taxes were mentioned by village residents speaking during the meeting.

We understand those who say it’s difficult to turn down $770,000 of work that only costs village taxpayers $77,000. We hope those same people who urged the Village Board to move forward with the project don’t complain when they get their tax bills to pay for the no-interest loan Chautauqua County has issued to Lakewood for the work. The project is likely to have an economic benefit to Chautauqua Avenue businesses when it is finished and will certainly result in a more attractive downtown Lakewood.

We have a bigger question — is the grant for a beautification project or is it to benefit Chautauqua Lake? Both the Chautauqua Avenue project and a project in Lowe Park that was not approved by the Village Board were pitched to the board and the public as watershed projects to reduce sediment and nutrients reaching Chautauqua Lake. While the board was involved in the process, the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance was the driving force behind the grants and the selection of projects to be done now or which would be done in the future. Much like we wondered how much of the state money was being wasted in the Lowe Park project, one has to wonder if a lake and watershed organization should be pursuing projects with more benefit to Chautauqua Lake first.

Lakewood resident David Bargar was among those who joined with Barnes in asking about the limited benefit the Chautauqua Avenue project will have reducing the flow of nutrients and sediment to Chautauqua Lake. Other projects that would have done more to decrease sediment and nutrients reaching the lake were passed over, in part because the land for the Lowe Park and Chautauqua Avenue is publicly owned. The Chautauqua Avenue project will have some benefit to Chautauqua Lake, but it seems to be more of a village beautification project than it is a Chautauqua Lake project.

New York state is looking at a $2.3 billion funding gap for the 2019-20 state budget, so there is no guarantee that state money will be available in the future. Cuts will have to be made somewhere. Rather than accept grant money because a project is easy to finish, it would be better to take advantage of grant funding opportunities that solve our most pressing problems while the money is available.

The Lowe Park and Chautauqua Avenue proposals are nice public improvement projects, but as watershed projects they merely tinker around the edges of Chautauqua Lake’s sediment and nutrient problems. We need to be using the limited state dollars we have access to for projects that do more than tinker around the edges.

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