DUNKIRK - With the iced-over Chadwick Bay Marina in the background from the view from Dunkirk's Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, Brigadier General Margaret Burcham (Army Corps, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division) was introduced to the city's harbor - and its needs.
Burcham, and other Corps officials in attendance, heard from stakeholders in the harbor. Included in that group were fishermen, charter boat captains, and representatives from the groups behind the drive to develop the Lake Erie waterfront in the county. A good deal of the concern was keeping tourism as a key component of the local economy to help replace the loss of industry in the area.
The general said she has heard that concern from other Great Lakes communities and states. Burcham, along with Buffalo office officials from the Corps, stressed the Corps' limited ability to help with non-federal water-related issues.
State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, and Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce examine charts of the city’s harbor depths Tuesday after a meeting at the Clarion Hotel that was attended by Army Corps of Engineers officials and hosted by U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.
Congressman Tom Reed spearheaded the meeting, part of a three-stop tour which included a visit to Chautauqua Lake, Dunkirk and Hanover. Reed said he was pleased with the turnout in Dunkirk.
"As the general said, there's something to be said about hearing about things on the front line. Her coming here I think has left an impression, a positive impression," he said. "I've enjoyed my day with her and I think this is hopefully a sign of good things to come"
Reed said part of the Corps' effort was managing expectations by explaining what the Corps can - and cannot - do.
"There's some strict rules when it comes to federal navigation lanes but with that being said, there is a lot of things we can do on a creative basis and there's a lot of things we can do on just an old-fashioned, solve-the-problem approach that I like to bring to the table," reed explained. "You heard some collaboration occur late in this meeting today where we're going to try and position ourselves to piggyback off the Barcelona contract in a way that saves significant, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in mobilization costs because we can partner with that contractor who has already been paid for that mobilization of equipment. We don't have to go through that significant expense if we can get Dunkirk harbor and Cattaraugus Creek done at the same time.
"Putting these relationships together, having representatives of the Corps who are involved in the day-to-day activity with our local stakeholders who are dealing with it from their perspective on a day-to-day activity, means that we can collaborate and streamline this process. Through that you're going to get significant savings and get the job done."
Reed also pointed to the outer breakwater in Dunkirk's harbor as needing work.
"The breakwater out there, as pointed out by one of the fishermen, has trees growing in it and I just wanted to highlight personally to the Corps how significant that issue is," he continued. "It's a growing issue. It's a D-rated breakwater and to replace it and repair it is a significant cost and the more that it deteriorates and falls apart that means more cost to all of us. I just wanted to put it on their radar at a higher level to say maybe making those investments now is a good investment to save taxpayer dollars in the future."
It's always good when you get everybody in the room. ... When you get everybody together like there was today you were able to make some good connections. ... We'll work together to see if we can piggyback off Barcelona's dredging and we're also looking into the possibility of bidding out excavating services and possibly shipping our material to the county landfill. Those were the two positives we came out of this meeting with and hopefully it's something that we can afford with a minimal financial contribution from the city."
Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce said the next step was to keep working with Reed's office.
"He has been a great partner in this. County officials, Assemblyman Goodell, keep those conversations going. ... This is another one of those efforts we think can best be done regionally, it's not just a Dunkirk issue."
Dolce added conversations are ongoing with the other stakeholders.
"We know this is a fishing and boating community and it's discouraging when you hear the numerous stories of people getting stuck and having trouble getting out. Eventually, and I think the process has already started, where word spreads and you start to lose a few visitors from out of town," he said. "We need to make sure we don't let that snowball. It benefits all of us to have as many visitors from out of town as possible."
City Development Director Steve Neratko said the city has about a 350 by 250 foot area that needs to be dredged, with an estimated cost of $200,000 if the contractor the Corps is using in Barcelona's dredging does Dunkirk's dredging. He added details need to be worked out.
"We do have permits in place for dredging, good until mid 2014. So depending on the timing, those are already in place. We are already working to get those permits extended for another 10 years so this round, or another round of dredging, we'd be already to go," he explained. "The other issue is the funding. We don't really have the funding to put $200,000 toward dredging. It is an important project and we will look for funding availability."
With Westfield set to be dredged in spring 2014, Neratko said there isn't a lot of time.
"We'll be working here in the next couple months to see what we can do. It's an important project," he added.