Funding Request Reveals New Lake Maintenance Concerns

Chautauqua Lake Association board members, from left, Craig Seger, Bruce Erickson and Doug Conroe make their case for funding to the Lakewood Village Board of Trustees. They revealed a dire funding situation and expressed that more funds will be needed this year in order to keep up with demands for shoreline cleanup of Chautauqua Lake weeds. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

LAKEWOOD — Of all places, it’s fitting that the village of Lakewood set the stage for the Chautauqua Lake Association to address concerns regarding a troubled outlook for lake maintenance and more problems, including a possible fee-for-service model for the CLA and the lingering question of who ordered water tests to be conducted last summer without the village board’s consent.

“Why can’t we get an answer on that question from last year?” asked Trustee Randy Holcomb.

CLA Executive Director Doug Conroe responded by asking Holcomb and another concerned trustee, Ellen Barnes, to “put that behind us and move forward.”

When Barnes said Conroe had privately confirmed it was former Mayor Cara Birrittieri who ordered the water tests, Conroe did not deny the statement and stood in silence for several seconds. Village residents in attendance were left waiting for an answer and remembering the water tests that had mysteriously been ordered by what the CLA had called in a letter “reputable individuals” who had incurred the village a $853.40 charge.

The Lakewood-based nonprofit had billed the village without publicly stating who asked for waters along the village shore to be tested for herbicides. Later in the summer of 2018, it was revealed that herbicides hadn’t been found, meaning they didn’t drift from Busti town waters or were not illegally used in Lakewood waters.

“I think we’ve all learned from that process,” Conroe said.

Holcomb and Barnes found the lingering question regarding the water tests relevant because of a perceived lack of CLA transparency, something the longest-running lake-related organization was also accused of not having at last week’s Busti town board meeting by town board member Ken Lawton.

How the perceptions of the CLA reflect budgetary decisions for the town and village as relating to care for Chautauqua Lake remains to be seen. After asking for $20,000 from the town of Busti last week, Conroe was told by board members that the town would wait to see how County Executive George Borrello’s memorandum of understanding to bring all the lake organizations under one consensus strategy would play out.

Lakewood trustees did not commit to any level of funding for the CLA on Monday, and Conroe did not ask for a specific amount. He expressed how demand for a longer cleanup season and shoreline cleanup of lake weeds is stronger now more than ever.

“We’re dealing with very different expectations … and it causes frustrations,” said Conroe, referencing the recent environmental anomalies of invasive weed species clogging up south basin areas of Chautauqua Lake, including Burtis Bay and the lakefront along Fluvanna Avenue.

A member organization of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, the CLA presented an approximately $1 million 2019 budget, larger than usual, to accommodate harvesting needs and public demand for potentially more crews working on the lake in a longer work season than just the usual summer months.

“We’ve never raised that much money, but we have to recognize what the community wants,” Conroe said.

However, according to the present outlook, the CLA is experiencing lower funding than in years past. Conroe said he’s worried about the lack of municipal commitments for funding and the pending state financial support, all of which is potentially not going to come.

“Making up all of it — I don’t see that happening,” said Conroe, who followed with warning that if the funding situation for his organization doesn’t improve, the CLA will potentially become a subscription-based organization that only serves parts of Chautauqua Lake instead of the whole body of water.

“If we have to move to a subscription,” Conroe warned, “that could change.”

Conroe said the CLA is “more than lake maintenance,” citing how he views his organization to set the standard of local lake science through documentation of harmful algal blooms and leading other lake organizations to consensus, except for the Chautauqua Lake Partnership, the organization pushing for herbicide treatments.

CLP President Jim Cirbus made an attempt to get environmental findings approved so that herbicide permitting would finish quickly to allow for late April or early May herbicide treatments if the village and other municipalities vote to approve them.

“We work with other groups,” Conroe said. “We get along with almost every one. When you support us, you’re getting a big ticket item.”

If the CLA doesn’t receive more funding in spring, Conroe said that could affect the entire harvesting season since the CLA usually hires college students as part-time summer help for the weed harvesting crews.

“If (students) don’t know (they have a job), they’re going to go somewhere else,” Conroe said.

As far as the possible evolution of CLA becoming a fee-for-service organization, Conroe said the crews would most likely focus on serving the north basin of Chautauqua Lake since that is where more contributions originate. In terms of 2018 municipal funding, north basin towns and villages donated $78,432 whereas south basin towns and villages donated $36,650.

“What would a logical person look to give their priority?” Conroe asked rhetorically.

Concerned Lakewood residents who want to tell their trustees how they would like village funds to be used — by supporting any assortment of possible treatment methods for Chautauqua Lake — will have the chance to voice their opinions at an upcoming town hall-style meeting March 27 at 6 p.m. The location will be announced at a later date.

Follow Eric Zavinski at