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Strong Leadership Needed On Lake; Is That A Pipe Dream?

A lawsuit filed earlier this week by the town of Ellery and the Chautauqua Lake Partnership against the state DEC comes as no surprise.

While Ellery and the CLP take issue with the DEC’s choice to permit herbicides on only seven acres of Chautauqua Lake in Ellery this summer, the blame for the whole mess doesn’t lie with the DEC.

It lies locally in the lack of lake leadership since George Borrello left the County Executive’s office to become the region’s next state Senator.

Lake management has been a free-for-all for the past several years, with big personalities often clashing around boardroom tables, in scientific presentations and courtrooms. There was a brief respite with the Borrello-led Memorandum of Agreement on lake management, but it was pretty obvious this turn of events was coming when two studies of Chautauqua Lake — one by a third party paid by Chautauqua County and one by a Racine-Johnson paid for by the Chautauqua Lake Association — painted vastly different pictures of the 2019 herbicide treatments on the lake. The DEC probably should err on the side of caution in the wake of a report so critical of herbicides’ effect in 2019.

The real question is why the report was done in the first place since the county was paying for an impartial third party study. The answer is that the Memorandum of Agreement by itself couldn’t bring order to the chaotic Chautauqua Lake management structure. Even with the Memorandum of Agreement, there were too many voices speaking about Chautauqua Lake. The memorandum brought an uneasy truce, but never truly quelled the boardroom grumbling between the lake’s warring faction.

The Chautauqua Lake Watershed and Management Alliance is a wonderful tool for gathering grant money, but it functions more as a loose affiliation that brings groups together but lets them go their own way once alliance meetings end. It facilitates teamwork where possible, but groups are free to form their own plans each summer.

Because there is so little leadership regarding in-water lake treatment locally, the decision making is left to the DEC. The DEC’s decision on the Ellery permits actually makes some sense — the agency wanted to let things in Ellery sit for a year and revisit the need for herbicides in 2021, particularly in light of the Racine Johnson report. In our opinion the decision shouldn’t be dumped in the lap of the DEC, particularly when the DEC is receiving permits that may or may not fit into a coordinated plan for Chautauqua Lake.

A true consensus is needed on Chautauqua Lake maintenance. There should be no more surprises, no more competition and no more dueling press releases and studies. One agency needs to speak with a clear voice for the betterment of Chautauqua Lake — and that agency needs to walk the tightrope between herbicide use and ecologic methods of weed management.

Other counties have figured this out. It’s time for Chautauqua County to do the same. Of course, we’ve made this same argument in this space for the last two decades. We don’t have a lot of confidence in those involved that such a pie-in-the-sky idea will actually happen.

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