Despite Questions, Lake Memorandum Deserves A Chance To Work

It is likely that most, if not all, of the agencies working to restore a healthy balance to Chautauqua Lake will sign the Memorandum of Agreement proposed last week by County Executive George Borrello.

Already, five organizations have signed on. More are likely this week, though it remains to be seen if the Chautauqua Lake Partnership will do so.

The memorandum is groundbreaking in terms of the types of cooperation it requests regarding Chautauqua Lake. It could bring an end to lawsuits among the memorandum’s signatories, place limits on the amounts of herbicides that could be used on the lake while also placing herbicides squarely among the other tools used to remedy Chautauqua Lake’s nuisance weed problems. County Executive George Borrello and the county’s consultants deserve extraordinary credit for crafting such a document in a pretty short time. With such a compressed time frame, though, it is worth asking if any details were missed that could have unintended consequences in the future. Among them are these:

¯ Given that the 2019 herbicide process has already started, could signatories be in violation of the memorandum already if the state Department of Environmental Conservation approves herbicide usage in excess of the 527 acres approved in the Memorandum of Agreement?

¯ Memorandum signers would no longer be able to sue each other, but could a signatory sue the DEC over the 2019 herbicide applications currently under consideration?

¯ There have been concerns raised in the past about the county’s Macrophyte Management Strategy, yet the MMS is listed as a guidance tool for the science-based decisions that will be made about the lake.

¯ And, while this question may be answered as the currently unformed central authority is developed, who is paying for this unnamed third party being tasked with quite a bit of oversight over lake management activities?

There is also one final question that looms over the creation of Borrello’s memorandum, and that is the county executive himself. It has taken a herculean effort by Borrello to get the Memorandum of Agreement this far, and even that effort has resulted in a document that creates nearly as many questions as it actually answers.

The memorandum is the beginning of this process, not the end — and that is scary. If Borrello ends up representing our area in the state Senate, we wonder if this hard-earned consensus falls apart when it is re-evaluated in April 2021. This process has shown Borrello’s skill in twisting arms where necessary, sweet talking recalcitrant participants when that approach is called for and making policy decisions even though Borrello knows those decisions won’t be popular with everyone. Memorandums such as the Chautauqua Lake agreement are supposed to be a way to manage such situations, but we fear that Borrello’s particular style of leadership and decision-making are the glue holding this fragile consensus together.

Frankly, we would understand some organizations having reservations about the Memorandum of Agreement. They’re being asked to give up some of their individual autonomy, to agree to oversight that hasn’t been necessary in the past and to limit some of their activities in ways that don’t make much sense to them now. They have questions. So do we — but now is the time to build trust among the lake organizations and work together through these issues and questions.