Goodbye Consensus And Hello Courts

I was disappointed recently to read the headline in the newspaper: “Institution Files Lawsuit.” On July 30th Chautauqua Institution sued the DEC and the Town of Ellery for being “arbitrary and capricious” in adopting a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) relative to permitting the treatment of a small portion of Chautauqua Lake with herbicides to control weed growth.

I had been hopeful that, through the efforts of the Chautauqua Lake Alliance and others, the various interest groups around the lake were working together toward a common consensus in maintaining and improving the lake. Now, we are headed for court with the lawyers and “experts” piling on for what will probably be a long, drawn-out battle costing everyone involved a lot of money.

It reminds me a bit of the 1970s when an environmental lawsuit was brought to stop the construction of the Chautauqua Lake bridge at Bemus. Though the route of the bridge had been approved in the 1960’s, a federal court in the 1970’s had retroactively applied the National Environmental Policy Act to such projects and so the complainants sued to have a multi-year Environmental Impact Statement conducted. Result: After three years of study and a delay in the courts, the bridge construction went ahead … at an increased cost of about $12 million.

I think we all understand that Chautauqua Institution gets its drinking water from the lake. They are rightly concerned about the lake’s water quality. However, the closest herbicide application was about 5 miles downstream, and it is hard to imagine any scenario where the weighted herbicide used could have moved upstream to Chautauqua’s water intake.

But, aside from the facts and merits of the case, Chautauqua’s bringing this legal action is a step backwards in terms of building cooperation and consensus around the lake. Admittedly, the institution is the highest profile government on the lake. It’s nine-week season has for decades been the biggest driving force in tourism and promotion of the lake.

However, in this latest action, it seems like the institution is taking a position of “it’s my way or the highway.” It is bringing this action against the same DEC which ordered Chautauqua and other sewer plants around the lake to lower their phosphorous discharges into the lake. The DEC has nothing to gain by seeing the quality of the lake’s waters diminished. State law also allows that the entity seeking a permit may undertake the SEIS and so the town of Ellery agreed to do that. (I would estimate that well over half the property value in the town of Ellery is located near or along the shores of Chautauqua Lake, so it is not illogical for the town to undertake this task.)

So “Good-bye” consensus and “Hello” to the courts. We will all now see how this plays out after the lawyers and “experts” are done. Hopefully, it won’t take three years of waiting.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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