Classifying Parts Of Chautauqua Lake As Wetlands Could Have Major Ramifications

Proposed state DEC regulations changing what qualifies as wetlands seem innocuous on their face.

But we agree with Ellen Barnes, a Lakewood Village Board members, that what the DEC is talking about could have drastic ramifications for both those who own property along Chautauqua Lake’s shores in Lakewood and Ellicott and for county taxpayers as a whole.

Let’s start with local property owners – many of whom live out of the area, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their properties and may not know the use of their property could change as soon as next January. DEC officials announced the rulemaking in January, with public comments due Monday. But because those regulations don’t specifically mention Chautauqua Lake – or any other lake – we can see how property owners would have no clue that what the DEC is talking about could impact them. One wouldn’t necessarily think the lake would fall under the new wetlands guidance, but Barnes thinks parts of Chautauqua Lake would indeed qualify when the DEC expands its scope of regulated smaller wetlands unusual importance meeting one of 11 specific criteria in order to provide additional fish and wildlife habitat and to protect communities from flooding starting in January 2025.

Barnes says lakefront property owners who own property closer to Burtis Bay will be impacted the most if those areas are deemed to fall under wetlands protections under state law. Property owners may not be able to put in docks and there would be limits on weed cutting and herbicide uses as well. State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, noted the state’s wetlands regulations would also place limits on any new construction as well as additional permitting and regulatory restrictions.

Obviously, such changes would hamper the use of some parts of Chautauqua Lake – and it’s worth noting that the use of the lake is one reason homes around Chautauqua Lake are worth so much money. If parts of the south basin of the lake are treated as a wetland rather than a lake, we can see how property values would be impacted even if we don’t know how much. Properties located along Chautauqua Lake’s shores generate about a quarter of Chautauqua County’s taxable value – meaning those homes have a significant impact on the finances of Chautauqua County as a whole. If they drop too much, everyone else is going to be paying more Chautauqua County taxes.

We can’t say the regulations are good or bad because we frankly don’t know enough about them yet. But any time there are concerns about property values on Chautauqua Lake going down it should raise alarm bells for everyone in Chautauqua County. Those with concerns should email the DEC today at WetlandRegulatoryComments@dec.ny.gov.

We do know for certain two things need to happen at the same time – protection of Chautauqua Lake ecologically and the protection of some of the most important and highest priced real estate in the county. This is a conversation that should be had openly and publicly, not through an administrative rulemaking and not without an open and frank discussion about what it all could mean.


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