CLP Uses Lecture As Platform To Air Grievances

Chautauqua Lake Partnership Biology Adviser Tom Erlandson lists grievances the CLP has regarding the other nonprofit lake organizations concerned with the health of Chautauqua Lake. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

Members of the Chautauqua Lake Partnership referred to themselves as an outlier in terms of the various organizations concerned with the health of Chautauqua Lake and the improved economic and recreational gains it could offer if the water body was less burdened with invasive weed species, drifting weed fragments and harmful algae blooms.

In a lecture called “The Partnership Perspective,” the group’s Biology Adviser Tom Erlandson and Vice President Jim Wehrfritz listed grievances they have regarding Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua Lake Association, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance. They also shared examples of management strategies they would like to see implemented in the future.

Erlandson began the presentation at the James Prendergast Library in Jamestown on Wednesday evening by explaining the science of how Chautauqua Lake has been further affected by cultural eutrophication over the years, excess sedimentation and nutrients due to runoff and other factors, and internal loading of already submerged nutrients.

Once the science was summarized, Erlandson shared the issues members of the CLP have with the other organizations. He focused on the CLA first and criticized their “another amazing summer for CLA” tagline used on its website this year. He said various areas in the lake, including Burtis Bay and other areas containing weeds that weren’t harvested, were not experiencing that same “amazing summer.”

“They are willing to accept the status quo,” Erlandson said of the CLA.

CLA Executive Director Doug Conroe responded to criticisms of their harvesting program. He said the CLP has failed to recognize that CLA’s harvesting programs have been scrutinized over years, with the result of recommended continuous harvesting every time.

“All (lake management) plans have recommended the continuance of the CLA’s harvesting program,” Conroe said.

Conroe also pointed out that he thinks CLA’s harvesting program is being unfairly blamed on the weed fragments that collect near shore. He said factors including boating activity, wave action and natural die-off are not being considered enough and that CLA’s workers pick up fragments whenever they can. Conroe also commented on the often-publicized Burtis Bay fish kill.

“Time and budget did not allow for harvesting the whole bay or for weekly shoreline cleanup,” Conroe said. “The CLP, on the other hand, had a permit in hand to apply herbicide and did not. It turned its back on the area and expended its funds elsewhere instead of where the need was greatest. Now it proclaims to be the area’s champion.”

Municipalities like the village of Celoron and town of Ellicott did not have necessary funds to contribute to herbicide treatments this year, something these entities are seeking to remedy for potential 2019 treatments.

Next on the list was the CWC, the group aiming to preserve the watershed surrounding the lake. Erlandson said there hasn’t been enough concrete data on how beneficial the CWC’s projects have proved in terms of nutrient reduction efforts.

CWC Executive Director John Jablonski defended conservation of the watershed, calling it the most important tool to protect water bodies over time according to research completed by the Trust for Public Land and American Water Works Association. Jablonski said that it’s not possible to measure pollution prevention activities on a short-term basis since phosphorus loading into the lake is “weather dependent and therefore varies significantly each year.”

The CLP, CLA and CWC are members of the alliance along with lakefront municipalities and the county government. Erlandson echoed complaints CLP members have made at alliance meetings and said the quasi-governmental structure of the alliance doesn’t allow for representation of all groups on the alliance’s board of directors, something the CLP wants representation on. Erlandson and Wehrfritz said they were told some alliance members don’t like herbicides, which is why they said a comprehensive management strategy combining herbicides with CLA’s weed harvesting and proposed by the CLP was denied.

“We have this fragmentation, not only with the weeds, but with the groups that are trying to help the lake,” Erlandson said.

CLP is simultaneously calling for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to potentially regulate CLA’s weed harvesting — because it could be argued the group spreads invasive weed species — and sharing a desire to work with the county’s longest-living lake group on a comprehensive management strategy for the lake. Conroe said “no credible programs” have been proposed this year for collaboration.

Erlandson also expressed how the CLP takes issue with the alliance’s five-year plan that he said exists as a means of evaluating other lake groups’ efforts, not providing a plan of action. Alliance Chairman Pierre Chagnon was in attendance along with State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, who was also called on by an audience member to advocate for more state funding to address concerns with Chautauqua Lake.

Goodell responded by saying nearly $1 million are allocated for Chautauqua Lake yearly. A total of $150,000 was allocated for the CLA, and $95,000 was distributed to the CLP. He said an additional $716,000 is generated through 2 percent bed tax.

When Wehrfritz took the microphone, he boasted the success of his somewhat new lake organization. The CLP was founded in 2001 but became and remained dormant until 2016. It now includes approximately 700 members and has raised more than $500,000. He said the CLP’s main goal is to enhance the lake to improve human enjoyment of what many called at the lecture the county’s greatest resource.

Shortcomings of the CLP itself were also listed: no paid staff, criticism from other lake organizations, minimal funding from the alliance and being caught up in the lawsuit brought forth from the Chautauqua Institution against the DEC and town of Ellery, the municipality that was the lead agency for spearheading herbicide treatments of the lake this year. Overall, 81 of 191 permitted acres were treated.

Wehrfritz said the lawsuit is adverse to the relationships that are trying to be forged in the alliance, as both the town and Chautauqua Institution are represented. He criticized Chautauqua Institution’s apparent opposal of herbicide treatments.

Emily Morris, vice president of marketing and communications at Chautauqua Institution, said that the group is not against herbicides and stated that the legal record reflects they specifically have problems with what they perceive as inadequacies in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement used to allow the use of herbicides.

“We do not object to the use of herbicides,” Morris said. “We want the science in the SEIS to be sound so that permits issued are safe. And, ultimately, we want a comprehensive approach to lake conservation.”

Representatives from most lake groups share a similar sentiment. However, Wehrfritz maintains that Chautauqua Institution is trying to limit herbicides as a particular management strategy from being used, in part because the facilities collect drinking water from the lake. Wehrfritz criticized their lack of a contingency plan, but as reported earlier in the year by The Post-Journal, Chautauqua Institution revealed their contingency plan to draw from other sources of water or install a carbon filter to clean contaminated water if the lake became impaired.

“There’s got to be some novel approaches to these problems,” Wehrfritz summarized in a question and answer portion of the lecture.

Chagnon expressed disappointment that the member organizations of the alliance are in such disagreement regarding how to proceed. Time will tell how lake management evolves into 2019.