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New Regulations

DEC: South Basin Of Lake To Become Wetlands

Looking out from the public boat launch at Lakewood Community Park to Burtis Bay on Chautauqua Lake. The DEC is proposing new regulations that could result in the lower basin (Burtis Bay area) of Chautauqua Lake to be designated as a wetlands area. P-J photo by Michael Zabrodsky

LAKEWOOD — Those who want to put a new dock in the south basin of Chautauqua Lake may not be able to do so under regulations that may take effect in January.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the South Basin is likely to become a protected Wetlands area.

“There are a number of existing docks in areas that may be subject to regulation once the new law takes effect, but typical maintenance and repair of these existing structures and seasonal removal and replacement are exempt,” said TJ Pignataro, DEC assistant public information officer.

Pignataro added that all areas within the lake supporting more than 12.4 contiguous acres of wetland vegetation will be regulated by the Article 24 Freshwater Wetlands Act.

And some lawmakers in Lakewood do not agree with the proposed designation.

In 2022, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law historic revisions to New York’s Freshwater Wetlands Act. New York’s original Freshwater Wetlands Act was enacted in 1975 to regulate activities near larger wetlands, greater than 12.4 acres, and smaller wetlands considered to be of unusual local importance. The new wetlands law eliminates the use of the old, inaccurate wetland maps and clarifies that all wetland areas greater than 12.4 acres are subject to Article 24 regulations. Freshwater wetlands are lands and submerged lands – commonly called marshes, swamps, sloughs, bogs, and flats — that support aquatic or semi-aquatic vegetation. 

“It is likely that much of the South Basin will be considered regulated wetlands, particularly the shallow areas containing submerged vegetation ringing the shoreline. The process of delineating New York State regulated wetlands is guided by New York’s delineation manual and focuses primarily on an evaluation of the dominant plants growing in a particular area,” Pignataro said.

Wetlands, the DEC said, are delineated as part of the permitting process and can be done by DEC or by private consultants. Delineations for small projects are generally done by DEC, while delineations for large projects are generally done by private consultants. The DEC recognizes that protecting freshwater wetlands is critical to safeguarding water quality, preserving wildlife habitat, mitigating flooding, and promoting resilience in New York State’s communities and along its shorelines, including Chautauqua Lake, in the Southern Tier, and across the state. The new regulations, as proposed, substantially enhance and modernize the state’s freshwater wetland protections to ensure the long-term health and vitality of these important ecosystems for future generations.

In January, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos urged state residents to review and comment on the development of proposed regulations that would further protect freshwater wetlands statewide.

Now that the comment period is closed, Pignataro said the DEC appreciates all of those who submitted comments on the updates during the recent public comment period and looks forward to integrating them into the draft regulatory proposal, which is scheduled to be complete and available for public review and additional opportunities for public comment later this year.

Lakewood Village Trustee Ellen Barnes has previously stated that she doesn’t agree that the Wetlands designation will be very good for the village economy or for village residents.

“And if you have property in that area, property values will go down. It’s just a huge hit to the entire area, I believe,” Barnes said previously.

Barnes also noted that property owners who are directly affected will see their property values reduced by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lakefront property owners who live closer to Burtis Bay will be impacted the most.

Jim Wehrfritz, a former lake consultant with the town of Ellery, said it’s estimated that 1,000,000 additional acres of new wetlands will be added statewide with onerous restrictions on development and use.

Through a Freedom of Information Law request, Wehrfritz said property values in the South Basin will decrease.

“Wetland-related regulation of properties not so regulated prior to the new Wetlands Law will surely lose value, assessments will be reduced, associated property and school tax revenue will decline, and tax rates will have to be increased,” Wehrfritz said. “Consideration of the regulations’ negative impact on property values and the mitigation of such impact is excluded from the regulations. This is a significant and unacceptable omission from aggressive and damaging after-the-fact rule making.”

Pignataro said that people will still be able to fish in the lake in Burtis Bay.

“Regulation under the Freshwater Wetlands Act would not change the ability of people to fish in Chautauqua Lake,” Pignataro said.

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