By Douglas E. Conroe
This letter to the editor was written in response to an editorial published in The Post-Journal on October 10, 2020, titled “Strong Leadership Needed On Lake; Is That A Pipe Dream?” It was submitted to The Post-Journal two weeks ago but, as of this date, has not been printed.
Editor, The Post-Journal:
This is to comment upon and also to correct inaccuracies contained in the daily Editorial of the October 10-11, 2020, edition of The Post-Journal. The editorial reflected upon Chautauqua Lake management.
The editor leaves the reader with the impression that the Chautauqua Lake Association sponsored Racine-Johnson study was performed to evaluate the 2019 herbicide program that occurred in the lake. That was not the purpose of the study. The study was a continuation of aquatic plant monitoring that has occurred annually by the principal owner of Racine-Johnson since beginning in 2002. The work started initially under the auspices of Cornell University and then upon his retirement from Cornell transitioned to the ecologist’s subsequent involvement as the principal in Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists. Comments rendered about perceived impacts of the herbicide program were simply observations resulting from the ecologist’s seventeen years of involvement with lake conditions here and at other lakes, comments the nature of which he normally renders from time-to-time. Although the Department of Environmental Conservation has involved his expertise in evaluating herbicide treatments elsewhere, that was not his role here. His role here has been to record and explain the lake’s aquatic plant community’s presence as an aspect of normal scientific benchmarking and to perform additional lake studies as requested at times. His staff is currently also monitoring the herbivore community and its impact on plant growth, mussel presence in the lake and the staff is being vigilant for new invasive species that might arrive.
The editor further leaves the reader with the impression that the third party herbicide evaluation was performed under the sponsorship of Chautauqua County. In reality, the evaluation was performed under the sponsorship of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance. The Alliance determined the scope of the work, retained the contractor, met privately with the contractor to discuss its report prior to the report’s publication (an aspect that the CLA does not do with Racine-Johnson in order to assure the contractor’s independence) and paid for the report.
The two reports should not be compared in a one-versus-the-other scenario. They evaluated different time frames and for the most part different lake locations. The reports did exhibit similarities in that both noted apparent herbicide drift to non-target areas and that damage occurred to native plant species as well as non-native species. Nevertheless, the studies were not performed on a common platform from which a valid comparison can be drawn. The two reports served different purposes.
Regrettably, the Alliance sponsored third party study was hurriedly scoped at the last minute and reduced in scope due to budget limitations. The study varied from standard evaluation timeframes and parameters. Nevertheless, it gave a glimpse into what happened.
The editor also attributes the current problem to the state of affairs post-County Executive Borrello. A wider view of the situation needs to occur. Actually, the current predicament started back in 2017 when the then county administration refused to update its 1990 supplemental environmental impact statement. It justified such by saying that it would be inappropriate to develop the statement because the county would not be the herbicide permit holder. Officials did not disclose that when the 1990 statement was prepared and issued that the county was not the permit holder then either. Nevertheless, in 1990 the county became the mediator between all sides, involved all sides along with the general community in the statement’s preparation and produced a document that was workable to all sides.
Unfortunately, by not updating its environmental impact statement county officials knowingly opened the door widely for the one-sided document that was developed that continues to be controversial through today. The Town of Ellery allowed the Chautauqua Lake Partnership to dictate the content of the document utilizing the guidance of the partnership’s attorneys and herbicide vendor. The other parties that the county brought to the table in 1990 were excluded from the document’s preparation and were brushed aside when they offered over 300 comments at the end of the various processes where public input was required by state law. Had county officials, most of which are still in office, stepped up to the plate in 2017, the situation today might be totally different.
To many the 2019 county-authored Memorandum of Agreement presented a current day path to compromise. Those that work with it know differently. It was a political splash one-sided edict tying funding to signing. The better hope for success was a two months earlier issued Conservation Statement that was jointly prepared and signed by ten organizations. County officials declined to work with those groups and pushed ahead on their own path. We now have the state of affairs that has resulted. County officials need to learn from this and the 1990 process if real improvement is to occur.
Douglas E. Conroe
Chautauqua Lake Association, Inc.
429 East Terrace Avenue, Lakewood, NY 14750
Phone (716) 763-8602