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Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Development ­ 2020 in review

Since October of 2020, I have been communicating with the public through this article on the first weekend of every month about all of the great things going on throughout Chautauqua County as they relate to economic development. These commentaries may include discussions about specific projects of public interest that are underway or have been completed, where they are at, and if completed, how they are performing. They may also include discussions about initiatives being undertaken at various agencies or at the County level, including, but not limited to, the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency, the Chautauqua Region Economic Development Corporation, the Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth, the Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Development, the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation, the Workforce Development Board, the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, educational institutions, foundations, or at any one of the many agencies whose mission makes them a critical partner in economic development initiatives throughout the County.

This month I would like to talk about all of the great projects and initiatives taking place through the Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Development (www.planningchautauqua.com) which capitalize on our assets and address some of our challenges. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Realigned and Fully Staffed – Building Efficiencies and the Economic Development/Planning Team – In 2020, the County amended the Administrative Code to streamline the Department of Planning and Development.

The most notable change was the elimination of the divisions of planning and community development and economic development so that it is one cohesive department. The closure of the Westfield office and relocation of staff to the BWB Center in Jamestown and Fredonia Technology Incubator in Dunkirk is complete. This has resulted in significant efficiencies and a much greater level of collaboration among staff. Rebecca Wurster was hired to manage all planning related activities as Planning Coordinator; Dave McCoy will continue to lead all watershed related work as Watershed Coordinator; and Nate Aldrich is leading economic development related activities as Economic Development Coordinator. Chautauqua County’s Planning & Economic Development Team is replete with a vibrant and enthusiastic team of professionals, including Matt Bourke, Melissa Keller, and Brendan Cullen (Planners); Barb Molnar (Part-time Contracts Manager); and Rose Strandburg (Part-Time HR Rep.), and is Best-in-Class.

Economic Development Strategy – Advanced under the Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth and funded by the County, CCIDA, and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the Chautauqua County Economic Development Strategic Plan was completed in August of 2020. The data-driven and results-oriented strategy has set the stage for various public and private efforts that advance transformative projects and initiatives with countywide impacts. The Plan contains a clear vision with specific tactics, projects, programs, services, and policies to be updated or initiated via the Partnership for Economic Growth. The Plan also contains recommendations regarding market conditions, capacity, resources, commitments to taking action, building trust and communication networks, and developing metrics for measuring and evaluating progress.

Chadakoin River Strategic Business Plan – The Gebbie Foundation, CCIDA, Jamestown Board of Public Utilities, and City of Jamestown are developing a strategic action plan for enhancing the navigability of the Chadakoin River by small motorized watercraft, and activating the waterfront from McCrea Point Boat Launch to the basin where the City is developing the Jamestown Riverwalk. The business plan will identify projects, both economic and environmental-related, as well as marketing recommendations, that result in conceptual drawings, costing, a proposed timeline, suggested partnerships, and the identification of funding sources. This project will establish the groundwork for guiding the ultimate activation of the Chadakoin River for greater public use and ancillary development.

Agricultural Development & Enhancement Strategy – The Chautauqua County Agricultural Development & Enhancement Strategy is an update to the County’s 2001 Farmland Protection Plan. The objective of the update is to provide an accurate reflection of the current agricultural conditions in Chautauqua County and to devise strategies to increase the economic viability of the agricultural industry.

Agriculture District Review – The Department is providing support to the County Legislature through facilitating the state-mandated eight-year review of the County’s Agricultural Districts. At the same time, the County is looking to consolidate its districts to reduce the administrative load. The review and consolidation process requires that the County accept proposals for modifications to the districts, prepare a report on the status of agriculture within the districts, notify every landowner within the districts of modifications, hold a public hearing, and pass a resolution accepting the modifications through the County Legislature.

Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) – The Department is spearheading an effort to develop a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) for the County’s 10 Lake Erie communities. Administered by the New York Department of State (DOS), the LWRP enables communities to engage in thoughtful planning for their valuable waterfronts and to access grant funding to implement those plans.

Airport Strategic Business Plan – The Airport Strategic Business Plan will be a condensed, useable document to help improve the financial and operational performance of the County Airports. The goal of the project, which is being undertaken in-house, is to rethink what the County airports can and should be in order to take advantage of local conditions and assets, rather than continuing to do what we have always done and expect different results.

Chautauqua Lake District – In 2018, Chautauqua County’s Legislature appointed a group of local officials to explore the formation of a Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District to improve the health and usability of Chautauqua Lake. The Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency was tasked with evaluating needs and making recommendations to the County Legislature regarding the potential creation of a Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District. The Department provides staff support to this effort.

Site Infrastructure and Development – Consistent with the Economic Development Strategic Plan, this project seeks to improve the inventory of sites and prepare the critical infrastructure on these sites for economic development purposes. The project includes the identification and analysis of known or suspected brownfields, and the development of tools necessary to remediate, market, and redevelop them into economically productive uses. In addition to brownfield redevelopment, the strategy includes efforts to acquire and prioritize investments in strategic greenfield sites, and to enhance the County’s ability to proactively market them to businesses looking to locate or expand within the region.

Southwest NY Wireless Broadband – This project provided needed broadband infrastructure to areas not covered in our three-county area of south western New York State, and involved infrastructure upgrades including additional radios, towers, and fiber back-haul infrastructure to close the gap for our region’s residences, small businesses, and agricultural entities that have been left with low latency, data cap driven satellite as their only option when it comes to broadband service. This project also provided additional fiber backhaul to our WISP providers that are maxing out the currently available bandwidth. Funding Partners include: Appalachian Regional Commission; Chautauqua County; DFT – $80,000; Cattaraugus County; and Allegany County WISP (Total project cost: $784,000). The Department is working with the County Executive’s office to identify additional opportunities to provide broadband services to the un-served and underserved population of Chautauqua County.

NRG Reuse Alternatives Feasibility Study – The County, CCIDA, and the City of Dunkirk are collaborating to advance a study to investigate environmental issues and options for the re-use of the mothballed NRG power plant in the City of Dunkirk. With the assistance of an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant and financial contributions from local partners, a planning effort, led by Bergmann Associates, is identifying the major environmental-related challenges that will, in part, dictate what redevelopment alternatives are feasible for the site. Reuse concepts are being developed with recommended preferred alternative(s) identified. The study is expected to be completed and unveiled to the public in April 2021.

Barcelona to Chautauqua Institution Trail (B2CI) – Consistent with both the Chautauqua County 20/20 Comprehensive Plan and the Chautauqua County Greenway Plan, this project seeks to develop a multi-use trail from Barcelona Harbor to the Chautauqua Institution (B2CI). The B2CI feasibility study completed several years ago divided the trail into five segments, each including a number of sub-segments. Currently, we are seeking to acquire easements along the former Jamestown, Chautauqua, and Lake Erie Railway, from Route 430 in Mayville to Martin Wright Road in Westfield. A portion of this trail is currently operated by Chautauqua Rails-to-Trails (CR2T) as the Portage Trail. CR2T has informal agreements with many of these land owners; however, easements will be required for further development and to secure funding to complete the trail.

Welch Trail – In line with our County Greenway Plan and the B2Cinitiative, the Welch trail is planned to be a connecting segment of the B2CI multi-use trail. The state-funded Welch trail project will help to promote public usability of Chautauqua Creek – which does not currently have legal public access. The trail will act as destination point, providing recreational activities close to downtown Westfield.

Clean Energy Communities Grant – The County was awarded $150,000 from NYSERDA to implement four clean energy projects. These include: 1) LED replacement of tunnel lighting at the Jamestown Airport; 2) Purchase of Electric Vehicles; 3) Installation of EV Charging Stations; and 4) LED replacement of parking lot lighting at the DPF facility in Falconer. These projects are estimated to reduce the County’s energy costs by $40,000 per year.

Kayak Launches Grant – The County was awarded a $73,155 grant from NYS DOS to install five kayak launches in Chautauqua County. The County has partnered with local municipalities (City of Dunkirk, Town of Hanover, Village of Silver Creek, and Town of Westfield), as well as local organizations (the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and Lake Erie Management Commission), to provide the local share. The total project cost is $109,631.80, with four of the launches designed to be ADA-compliant.

Snowmobile Trail Maintenance and Development – The County is the local sponsor for an annual Snowmobile Trail Maintenance & Development Grant through NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. This year, the county was awarded $227,000. The County is responsible for the grant administration and works closely with five local snowmobile clubs to provide them with the equipment and resources they need to maintain the trails. The Department’s annual responsibilities include mapping GPS trail data, auditing claims, processing payments and contracts, and developing 3-year trail maintenance and development plans for each club.

Chautauqua Lake MOA/MOU – In 2018, Chautauqua County brought together the primary Chautauqua Lake stakeholders to reach consensus on the “rules of engagement” for managing Chautauqua Lake’s weed issues. The effort involved extensive stakeholder engagement and dialog to capture and address critical stakeholder concerns. The original Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed by a vast majority of the stakeholders in April of 2019 and has a two year term. The MOA was generally successful in that an Integrated Lake Management Strategy was implemented, funding for lake maintenance from outside sources increased significantly, and no litigation occurred between the participants. Since the MOA will expire on April 30, 2021, Chautauqua County is in the process of implementing an improved stakeholder agreement (MOU) that will build upon the successes and accomplishments of the 2019 MOA, and will incorporate lessons learned.

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