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DEC proposal may have economic impact on Lakewood

OBSERVER Photo by Michael Zabrodsky Looking out from the public boat launch at Lakewood Community Park to Burtis Bay on Chautauqua Lake. The DEC is proposing new regulations that could result in the lower basin (Burtis Bay area) of Chautauqua Lake to be designated as a wetlands area.

LAKEWOOD — Proposed state Department of Environmental Conservation wetlands regulations may have a substantial economic impact on the village of Lakewood.

Trustee Ellen Barnes noted that the DEC is proposing new regulations that could result in the lower basin (Burtis Bay area) of Chautauqua Lake to be designated as a wetlands area. She doesn’t agree that it, if implemented, will be the best for the village economy or for village residents. Residents have until Monday to make comments to the state.

“And if you have property in that area, property values will go down,” Barnes said. “It’s just a huge hit to the entire area, I believe.”

She added that property owners who are directly affected will see their property values reduced by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lakefront property owners who live closer to Burtis Bay will be impacted the most.

Lakewood Mayor Randy Holcomb agrees with Barnes’ assessment.

“I am in full agreement with what Ellen Barnes has said. She is absolutely one hundred percent spot on. As a former assessor with the village of Lakewood and the village of Celoron, I am especially concerned about property values as well. Something like this (designation) could easily change that (property values) to the negative,” Holcomb said

“Property owners in Lakewood in that area will see a steep drop in their property value,” she said.

State Assemblyman Andy Goodell echoed her thoughts.

“If they applied the wetlands regulations it would, for sure,” Goodell said of property values along the lake’s shores. “You wouldn’t be able to build. There’s provisions on setbacks for pesticide or herbicide use, fertilizer use and all kinds of stuff.”

Whether or not that will happen is uncertain. Goodell told The Post-Journal he spoke with the DEC on Thursday and was told there are no immediate plans to change wetlands designations regarding Chautauqua Lake and that Chautauqua Lake wouldn’t meet many of the criteria included in the new wetlands designations. Attempts to speak with the DEC on Friday were unsuccessful by The Post-Journal’s Friday press deadline for today’s edition.

But, Barnes and Jim Wehrfritz, a consultant on lake issues for the town of Ellery, have concerns some areas of the lake could meet the draft regulations. Barnes said a “check zone” may be as much as 500 feet. The DEC defines a “check zone” that is an area around the mapped wetland in which the actual wetland may occur.

“This will mean that those living within that zone may not be able to put in docks, no cutting of weeds, no herbicide use, etc. The village will be greatly impacted by the devaluing of lakefront property,” Barnes noted.

Goodell said the DEC is always trying to expand its jurisdiction over wetlands. And, he added, people should be paying close attention to the wetland regulations.

“As an example, if it’s a designated wetlands, you typically can’t do certain things within a couple hundred feet of the wetlands,” Goodell said of check zones. “There’s a lot of restrictions that apply. If they were ever to designate the lower basin as qualifying as a wetland you would have all kinds of regulatory and permitting restrictions that would typically apply to anyone along the shoreline. It’s not really appropriate.”

On Jan. 3, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos urged state residents to review and comment on the development of proposed regulations that would further protect freshwater wetlands statewide. DEC released the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to begin developing regulations to implement the new law that expands the number of wetlands regulated by DEC to further protect water quality and wildlife habitat.

“Wetlands are critical environmental and economic resources that protect water quality, provide essential habitats, mitigate flooding, and promote the resilience of New York’s communities,” Seggos said in a statement. “Through Governor Hochul’s leadership, this new law is greatly enhancing the state’s stringent freshwater wetland protections already in place, and I encourage New Yorkers to review this initial proposal and provide input to help DEC develop regulations that will modernize protections of wetlands and ensure the long-term health of these vital ecosystems.

Starting in January 2025, the DEC said the scope of regulated smaller wetlands of “unusual importance” will be expanded to wetlands that meet one of 11 specific criteria in order to provide additional fish and wildlife habitat and to protect communities from flooding. The ANPR seeks feedback on the potential criteria that will be used to classify these newly protected wetlands.

Jim Wehrfritz, a lake consultant with the town of Ellery said it’s estimated that 1,000,000 additional acres of new wetlands will be added state-wide with onerous restrictions on development and use.

“How much of that has DEC Region 9 (Buffalo) committed to in Chautauqua County and on Chautauqua Lake?

The way the draft wetlands law regulations are written, property owners and lake users on the entire lake, not just in the South Basin, will be negatively affected,” Wehrfritz said.

But Barnes doesn’t think a wetlands designation is needed for the lower basin.

“I believe strategic dredging is a good answer for this lake,” she said. “I do not think that delineating that part of Chautauqua Lake as wetlands is a good idea.”

The DEC noted that Comments can be submitted via email to WetlandRegulatoryComments@dec.ny.gov  (subject: “ANPR Freshwater Wetlands Protection”) or sent to Bureau of Ecosystem Health, Freshwater Wetlands Unit, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4756.

John Whittaker contributed to this report.

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