Bemus Point Mayor Addresses Dock Issue

A picturesque view of the Village of Bemus Point, overlooking Chautauqua Lake. Submitted photo

BEMUS POINT – Docking rights and water access points have become a hot-button topic around Chautauqua Lake, this time in Bemus Point.

Jeff Molnar, Bemus Point mayor, said the village’s attorney and insurance carrier recommended the village stop renting dock space from docks located in public rights of way..

“It’s just not worth the risk,” Molnar said. “We also found out that we’d have to apply for a permit with the Office of General Services for New York to be able to legally rent dock space out.”

That process can also include an application from the state DEC for a Protection of Waters permit.

The decision largely affects one specific dock on Lincoln Road that is anchored on village property. During the Bemus Point Village Board meeting in March, board members approved a resolution ending lake access on public land on Lincoln Road by private individuals. Molnar told The Post-Journal the dock has been used since around 1995 by four individuals, with an apparent approval from the village’s leadership at the time.

“I believe the original dock owners were four individuals,” Molnar said. “However, last year there were only three that I knew of, but I hear a fourth may have been added.”

Water access rights, dockage space and individual dockage rights arguments are not something new to the area. This ongoing dilemma over access acreage can be seen at any given municipality which borders Chautauqua Lake. Municipalities that include Bemus Point, Town of Ellery, City of Jamestown, Town of Chautauqua, Town of Busti, Town of Ellicott and the Village of Mayville that have waterfront access points.

“I’ve heard from several other mayors whose villages, city or townships, have lakefront access. … they’ve all dealt with this issue in one way or another over the years,” said Molnar.

However, Molnar is also quick to point out that other external pressures may have also influenced some of the ongoing conflicts regarding waterway access on the lake for Bemus Point.

“Some of these issues can be traced back to real estate purchases or a perceived, contractual, right to dock space which may or may not have been legally granted,” Molnar said.

According to farrellfritz.com, a legal firm based out of New York City, to have legal rights or access rights to property on a waterfront not owned, an individual must have been granted riparian rights that give the owners of along the border of a waterway certain rights that allow them to use the abutting waterway and the land beneath the waterway to gain reasonable access to navigable water. A riparian owner has no direct property interest in either the adjacent water or underwater lands, but merely the right to use such water and land.

However, according to a local real estate agent, the usage of riparian rights is somewhat common in the county, and a factor in some real estate transactions.

“This particular dock in question has actually been around since the late 1970s,” said Tom Wight, a licensed real estate salesperson with ERA Team VP . “Several municipalities have private dock space on or near public access points. However, prior to granting access rights to placing a dock, the owner or owners must show proof of insurance coverage and sign a hold-harmless agreement with the local municipality to eliminate liability for the city, village or town.”

The Post-Journal reached out to Irien Swallen, one of the current owners of the dock in question who spoke at length during the village’s board meeting regarding her potential loss of access. Swollen has not responded for comment.

“The risk outweighs the reward in this case,” said Molnar. “We want to do what is best for the village, and by renting out dock space, we as a village, assume too much risk according to our attorney and insurance carrier. Therefore we’re out of the dock renting business.”


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