Hotel Developer Critical Of Lake Condition

Mark Franz wit the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel believes the county isn’t doing enough to improve Chautauqua Lake. Photo by Gregory Bacon

MAYVILLE — One of the developers of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel is calling out local leaders for not doing enough to control the weeds and smell in Chautauqua Lake.

During last week’s county Legislature meeting, Mark Frantz talked about the poor conditions in the southern basin of the lake.

Frantz noted how he and his family worked with the Krog family to open the hotel in Celoron in 2018. He said they employ 150 people on average and have provided over 1,000 jobs over the past four years.

“The community and county government have been very supportive of us and we appreciate that. We hope that we’ve provided something that you can be proud of,” he said.

With that said, Frantz noted how poor the lake condition has been by the hotel. “We are very disappointed in the lake management, particularly in the southern basin. It’s flat out embarrassing,” he said.

This summer, they held 26 weddings and numerous other functions, which brought in 9,100 guests, the majority of whom were probably out-of-town visitors. “What impression do you think they walked away with? How many are going to come back? How many are going to have functions in the future,” he asked.

He’s worried the poor lake condition will keep people away. “The look and the smell in the front of our building is horrible,” he said.

Patrons have told them they notice the smell while eating at the outside bar or swimming in the hotel pool.

In 2019, the hotel owners spent $120,000 in docks for kayaks, canoes and other water sport activities. “We’ve seen very little activity in those docks this summer. I don’t think people want to venture down there with their boats,” he said.

Frantz said while they’re not going anywhere, other potential investors may shy away from coming to the area, knowing how bad the lake is.

He blames county officials for the poor condition. “My opinion of the lake management is they are failing, at least at the southern end. If the 2023 plan is the same as the 2022 plan they’re going to fail again,” he said.

Frantz said a month ago, there was a meeting about how to clean up the lake, which involved the Department of Environmental Conservation, County Executive PJ Wendel, state Sen. George Borrello and others.

“There is consensus about how to get this done, but there’s a lot of impediments. There’s people that just don’t want to see change,” he said.

He wasn’t the only person to complain about the weeds and odor of the lake.

Michael Newell of Celoron talked about the problems in Burtis Bay. “A solution must be found or this area will progress more rapidly down the path that it is currently on, to becoming a swamp,” he said.

Newell wants to see a boom placed to intercept the floating weed masses before they reach the shoreline, more frequent clean ups, and additional equipment and operators. “Whether these, or a combination of these, along with other ideas that may not have yet been identified, needs to be studied by a knowledgeable and unbiased third party management entity,” he said.

Jim Wehrfritz, a lake consultant with the town of Ellery, also expressed concerns about the county’s management of the lake. Wehrfritz is a civil engineer and has been working with on issues with Chautauqua Lake since 2016.

“I’m here to tell you that, based on experience with the county to date, many don’t believe the Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency, the CLPRA, would manage Chautauqua Lake successfully,” he said.

He noted that in 2018, invasive weed growth and weed fragments in the lake caused large weed masses to build up, trapping and killing thousands of fish. “Clean-up was delayed until seven months later when much of the weed mass had fallen to the bottom, reducing water depth, and increasing algae and weed-feeding nutrients,” he said.

This year, Wehrfritz said, those same areas struggled with decomposing, foul smelling weed fragments. “Boating, fishing, and lake- and shore-based recreation was largely impossible,” he said.

Wehrfritz said the county doesn’t seem to plan for these issues, which happen every year. “Although it’s an annual problem, the county treats the situation as a yearly surprise — a crisis requiring emergency funding and sole-sourced contracts after equipment and staff have been demobilized,” he said.

Wehrfritz said the county needs to have dedicated funding for the problem. “Funding is available. Less than 2% of the $25 million received by the county from the American Rescue Plan Act is dedicated to Chautauqua Lake,” he said.

He noted the CLPRA is looking into new taxing ideas to fund lake management, but he questions the organization. “If the county can’t successfully address this highly visible, annual problem, how can we be confident that a new county agency, the CLPRA, will perform any better,” he asked.

The CLPRA has been meeting this summer with Barton and Loguidice, the firm hired using ARPA funds, to figure out the best way to fund lake management. Ideas have included creating a near-lake taxing district, a watershed drainage district, charging a user impact fee, and charging a boat user fee. No final decisions have been made. Their meetings this summer have not focused on the best way to clean up and maintain the lake.


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