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Borrello bill would exempt lake from new regulations

Area officials have said there is nothing to worry about over new state wetlands designations and their effect on Chautauqua Lake.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, is taking no chances.

The region’s state senator has introduced legislation (S.9799) to exempt inland lakes that are navigable waterways and have an area of 150 acres or more from freshwater wetlands designations. The bill will further exclude the Great Lakes from the definition of “inland lake.”

“Landowners and developers often advocate for exemptions to protect their property rights and investments,” Borrello said in his legislative justification. “Wetland designations can impose restrictions on land use, potentially decreasing property values and limiting landowners’ ability to use their land as they see fit. Exempting inland lakes of one hundred fifty acres or more can facilitate continued use for boating, fishing, tourism, and other water-based

recreation, which are crucial for local economies and community enjoyment. By excluding the Great Lakes and focusing on inland lakes, the regulation ensures that the ecological importance of the Great Lakes is acknowledged and protected under state and federal regulations, while inland lakes with less critical but still significant ecological roles are managed appropriately.”

It would be a tough hill to climb for Borrello’s legislation to be passed before the end of the 2024 legislative session next week.

In 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law 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.

There has been concern raised that Chautauqua Lake would fall under increased wetlands regulation under the 2022 revisions. The state DEC will begin implementing new regulatory changes in 2025, and in 2028 the threshold of default will change from 12.4 acres to 7.4 acres that will be subject to Article 24 rules.

Jim Wehrfritz, a longtime advocate on Chautauqua Lake issues, and Ellen Barnes, a Lakewood Village Board member, began raising concerns about the new wetlands designation and its potential impact on Chautauqua Lake earlier this year. Concerns initially focused on the Burtis Bay area of Chautauqua Lake in the town of Ellicott and village of Lakewood, though Wehrfritz has said the new regulations would affect the entire lake. Homes along Chautauqua Lake’s shores makeup more than 25% of the county’s total taxable value.

Borrello and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, both said in March that the new regulations shouldn’t impact Chautauqua Lake, a sentiment that was echoed by DEC officials during a conference call with county officials and elected officials from towns and villages that border the lake.

“New York state’s tendency to overregulate is well-known, which is why we will continue our dialogue with DEC as the regulatory process moves forward,” Borrello said in March. “However, I believe their assurances should satisfy our concerns for the moment, with an understanding that we will continue to monitor the process to make sure they deliver on their commitment. As more questions arise, we will continue to advocate for all who have invested in our community and enjoy our lake.”

In the two months since that statement, Borrello’s bill shows a change in his public stance.

“This piece of legislation is necessary to balance environmental protection with economic and recreational interest. This approach allows for targeted conservation efforts by focusing on areas where wetland protections are most needed while also accommodating responsible land and water use,” Borrello said in his legislative justification.

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