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Lake Memo Source Of Collaboration And Discord

The Memorandum of Agreement for the Chautauqua Lake Weed Management Consensus Strategy, which was signed about a year ago, was meant to usher in a new era of cooperation between local municipalities, nonprofit organizations and Chautauqua County residents. P-J photo by Jay Young

The Memorandum of Agreement for the Chautauqua Lake Weed Management Consensus Strategy has been a source of both collaboration and discord since its adoption in March 2019.

Then-County Executive George Borrello formally signed the agreement twelve months ago, hoping to usher in a new era of cooperation between local municipalities, nonprofit organizations and Chautauqua County taxpayers. Some of that cooperation has been achieved, but division between parties is still an issue.

“I believe that the cooperation that we have seen is still in good standing and I think you see that by the lack of (legal) action on people’s part,” Borrello said. “No one is talking about lawsuits. We had a tremendous amount of positive feedback from the actions we took in 2019.”

Organizations signing the MOA agreed not to pursue legal action against one another over disagreements, which they have done in the past. While no new legal suits have been filed, there is still ongoing debate on the science and strategies of lake maintenance.

“I think what can happen is, some of the interpretation and some of the conclusions that have resulted from this are taken by some organizations and used to poke at other ones,” said Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance interim executive director. “I think that is clearly not helpful because we are learning a lot.”

There has been a wealth of scientific information on the effectiveness of lake maintenance produced in the last year, but debate still remains on conclusions.

“I think the organizations, whether it is Racine Johnson, whether it is Princeton Hydro, whether it is Solitude, basically publish their reports on their methodology and their findings. In some cases it is different timing, different scope, so they are not all directly apples to apples. But I think they follow basically good science,” Horrigan said.

Racine Johnson published a report paid for by the Chautauqua Lake Association, with some parties drawing conclusions conflicting with another report by Princeton Hydo that was funded by the county. Information on the biological health of the lake is also available from studies conducted by Bowling Green Sate University, as well as Solitude Lake Management, which performed herbicide treatments.

“The Racine Johnson report, if you look at the report itself, it is not so much the report and the language, it is the CLA’s interpretation that in my opinion was distorted. That was picked up by Buffalo media to help them stir the pot,” Borrello said. “I’ve been in communication with the (Chautauqua Lake Partnership) and the folks at the Alliance. I share the concerns with everyone that the CLA is doing things that ultimately are detrimental to the consensus strategy that we put forth and was so successful.”

Borello’s concerns regarding the CLA were shared by some municipal leaders.

“I personally don’t think (the MOA) has been (followed), in the respect that one particular organization has really been vocal about not herbiciding and the use of herbicides,” Ellicott Town Supervisor Patrick McLaughlin said. “The MOA was very clear about the combination of cutting and harvesting, and the use of herbicides. And we all signed that and basically agreed not to work against each other. So therefore those of us who were pursuing the use of herbicides had to put up with obviously a lot of, I don’t want to say bad press, but basically press against herbiciding and things that we don’t think were facts.” McLaughlin said that as a result of friction between the town’s approach and the CLA, Ellicott would be withholding funds from the organization this year.

“I do know that many of the communities and municipalities that always donated to the CLA, because of what they have done as far as we are concerned and violated the MOA, we are not going donate to the CLA this year. The town of Ellicott is withholding any money to them, and I know there are other municipalities around the lake that are doing the same thing,” he said.

CLA president Paul Stage is confident that his organization is funding scientific studies of the highest possible caliber.

“Science is expensive, and it needs to be done right. To try to get away with it on the cheap isn’t the answer,” Stage said. “The science that we have done on the lake for 20-plus years is done by an independent third party, or an independent party. We pay him but we have zero input in his work. The Racine Johnson organization is looked at by the state, by New York State DEC, as the go-to people. Their methodology has been adopted by NYS DEC as the standard.”

Stage affirmed Horrigan’s point that scientific studies conducted at different scales, at different times and at different locations on the lake do not lend themselves to direct comparisons.

Bemus Point Mayor Bryan Dahlberg believed that not all of the MOA parties were acting in good faith.

“I really don’t think that everybody is playing fairly. I don’t want to point any fingers,” Dahlberg said. “In the village we have tried to go by the guidelines and do what we signed an agreement to do. I would hope that all the players could get along and play together, but I don’t know if that has happened. I’m still going to stay optimistic, this is an extended year contract and it was getting us the opportunity to hopefully get everybody on the same page and pulling in the same direction.”

Lakewood Mayor Randy Holcomb agreed with Borello’s assessment of the Racine Johnson report, and also addressed another concern-the placement of GPS locators on CLA equipment.

“I don’t think they delayed putting GPS on their barges, I believe they refused,” Holcomb said. “It is in progress and it never seems to happen. There is tension there, no doubt.”

Stage addressed that issue, saying that the CLA is planning to add GPS locators, but wants to do so in a way that is cost effective and will aid lake management.

“We’re working on that,” Stage said. “I guess it goes to, what do you want the GPS locators for? Do you want it for history or do you want it for a management tool? We would like it for a management tool. Others would like it for history. The problem is that GPS, when utilized properly in our operations becomes very expensive.”

Despite some infighting, there does appear to be a consensus on the recreational usability of the lake in 2019.

“If you talk to many of the homeowners around the lake, at least I can tell you from my standpoint as far as Ellicott is concerned, they were very pleased with the way the lake was last summer. And that basically was due to herbiciding the south basin,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve got emails and pictures from people saying it was the best year of fishing they’ve had off their docks.”

Horrigan has received similar feedback.

“Last year the south basin was significantly reduced in terms of milfoil and nuisance weeds. I mean it was dramatically different than the year prior that was terrible in 2018,” he said.

“The upper lake was in excellent condition. I can’t speak to the lower lake because I wasn’t down there a lot. I think the Lake Association, we had a good year on the lake,” Stage said, mentioning shoreline cleanup efforts and macrophyte removal efforts in Mayville.

More information on the health of the lake ecosystem will be forthcoming this spring, as municipalities and organizations prepare their maintenance strategies for the summer season. One possible solution moving forward is to rely on information provided by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which issues permits for herbicide treatments.

“We’ll have to see then what the DEC permits,” Horrigan said. “I know they have all of this data, they have all of the scientific reports, and they will make a determination on the best amount (of herbicides), where and when to apply, and then we will see how it goes. I am focused on working together. I am focused on making sure the grant conditions have the proper conditions that enable us to comply with the MOA and the strategy moving forward.”

Horrigan stressed the role of the Alliance to distribute grant funding, and was encouraged by the amount of money currently allocated for maintenance.

Stage believes that the first year of the MOA has resulted in some of the intended collaboration, but that there are still fundamental disagreements over what it means to improve the health of the lake.

“In general it accomplished what it was designed to do. Which was try to bring the parties together around the lake,” Stage said. “The lake is so complex, and everybody wants a clean lake. But what is a clean lake to one person is not the same to another person.”

Stage used examples, including the varied perspectives of fishermen, recreational boaters and property owners to explain the needs and wants of different parties.

Borrello is optimistic that cooperation is still on the table for the parties involved.

“I want to see that spirit of cooperation continued, and it brought a lot more funding,” he said. “The CLA has an important role to play going forward and we want to see their cooperation. It is not the organization as a whole, it is just certain elements and players in the organization that are out for their own personal interests above the interests of the lake.”

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