Proposed DEC regulations worry lake consultant

Getting information about proposed wetlands near Chautauqua Lake can turn into a daunting task.

James Wehrfritz, a former lake consultant with the town of Ellery, said during a public meeting held recently at the Lawson Center in Bemus Point that it’s estimated that 1,000,000 additional acres of new wetlands will be added state-wide with onerous restrictions on development and use. He is worried about the broad and inclusive nature of the proposed regulations.

In 2022, according to the DEC, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law historic revisions to New York’s Freshwater Wetlands Act. New York’s original Freshwater Wetlands Act was enacted in 1975 to regulate activities near larger wetlands, greater than 12.4 acres, and smaller wetlands considered to be of unusual local importance. The new wetlands law eliminates the use of the old, inaccurate wetland maps and clarifies that all wetland areas greater than 12.4 acres are subject to Article 24 regulations. Freshwater wetlands are lands and submerged lands – commonly called marshes, swamps, sloughs, bogs, and flats – that support aquatic or semi-aquatic vegetation.

While state DEC officials have said the wetlands regulations changes won’t bring drastic changes to Chautauqua Lake anytime soon, Wehrfritz said during his recent meeting in Bemus Point he is waiting for more information from the DEC to confirm what the agency has told the region’s elected officials is true. Until then, he is continuing to analyze the regulations and is keeping those interested abreast through emails and public meetings.

JR Jacobson, a DEC officer, recently said that wetlands contained on old, outdated maps were regulated. But in January 2025, the DEC will begin implementing new regulatory changes. Jacobson said that in 2028, the threshold of default will change from 12.4 acres to 7.4 acres that will be subject to Article 24 rules.

Wehrfritz said there are 11 ways to be designated a wetlands area in draft regulations. They can apply to all areas of Chautauqua Lake. If one criterion is met, an area “could” be designated a wetlands area – there doesn’t have to be multiple criteria. Region 9 of the state Department of Environmental Conservation has the discretion on whether to make an area a wetlands area if it thinks the area meets the criteria.

“I have looked at many regulations over my career, but I’m really surprised by these (DEC Regs) because they are so broad and all inclusive. I’ve never seen anything like it. What worries me about it is that with broad and inclusive criteria, which could relate to you being regulated at DEC discretion, they (DEC regs) could be used in a number of ways,” Wehrfritz said.

Wehrfritz added that when the decrease goes into effect in 2028, the smaller areas also can get regulated.

“Almost any activity which may adversely impact the natural values of the wetlands or their adjacent area is regulated,” Wehrfritz said.

In a March 21 Post-Journal article, Glenn Sullivan, certified lake manager and president of Ready Scout LLC, agreed with Wehrfritz.

“Small wetlands of ‘unusual importance’ will continue to be regulated if they meet one of the criteria listed in the new legislation,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan was a Chautauqua Lake Partnership project manager for Solitude from 2019-2023; has 30-plus years experience in aquatic plant management; 20-plus years on the Board of the Northeast Aquatic Plant Management Society; and 15-plus years President of the New York State Aquatic Managers Association.

As for the changes coming in 2025, Sullivan said, “The current official NYS Freshwater Wetlands Maps will no longer limit DEC regulatory jurisdiction to wetlands depicted on those maps. Instead, maps will become informational, and any wetlands that meet the applicable definition and criteria will be regulated by DEC and subject to permitting, regardless of whether they appear on the informational maps.”

Wehrfritz noted that some activities will require a permit. They include construction of buildings, roadways, septic systems, bulkheads, dikes, or dams; placement of fill, excavation, or grading; modification, expansion, or extensive restoration of existing structures; drainage, except for agriculture; and application of pesticides.

Wehrfritz said that the DEC could designate most of Chautauqua Lake and all shore areas as “wetlands.” There is no distinction between undeveloped and highly-developed areas. There would be reduced property values, and property and school tax revenues. It’s like the DEC is performing a “taking” of private property without fairly compensating property owners, Wehrfritz said.

“Keep the Lake a Lake” is a local campaign to specifically resist regulation of Chautauqua Lake as wetlands and with the objective of Exemption for freshwater lakes from NYCRR Part 664, Freshwater Wetlands.

Campaigners will hold a public meeting at the Village Casino in Bemus Point at 9:30 am. For more information email chautauqualakepartnership@gmail.com.


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