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Lake groups respond to Burtis Bay fish kill

Photo by Eric Zavinski Multiple dead fish rest in a mass of invasive Eurasian milfoil and dead leaves Nov. 7. Various lake groups and public officials have since visited the site of this massive fish kill in Burtis Bay to discuss possible solutions and the environmental impact.

CELORON — Mike Newell of 10 Chautauqua Place waded through weed-infested waters filled with dead fish that had suffocated due to a lack of oxygen and being forced to the surface by a biomass blown in by winds nearly two weeks ago.

He used a pitchfork to turn over some of the weeds to reveal more of the dead fish to the eyes of representatives from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, Chautauqua Lake Partnership, Ellicott town and Celoron village officials, and affected neighbors and family members.

Newell and his wife Peggy have had to experience the sight and smell of the fish kill since the first weekend of November. One thing Mike Newell is ironically disappointed by is how seagulls and other birds have consumed many of the dead fish before these organizations could send members to a meeting at his property this week.

“Nature’s dynamic,” Mike Newell said. “It’s not waiting for anybody.”

That didn’t stop the Newells from showing loads of visual evidence detailing the fish kill and collected the week prior. Those in attendance stayed for as long as an hour and a half to understand the extent of the situation in Burtis Bay.

In response, Pierre Chagnon, director of the alliance, said that he and County Executive George Borrello are interested in cleaning up the area this fall if possible.

“We have been told that so long as the cleanup is done from the water, and no heavy equipment is placed in the lake that would significantly disturb the bottom, we can proceed,” Chagnon said.

A possible short-term solution would be to have the Chautauqua Lake Association provide a proposal for the cleanup to Dave McCoy, county watershed coordinator. Chagnon said a cleanup of this size this late during the fall could pose a logistical problem for the group that normally cuts and harvests weeds during the summer.

“We are hopeful that something can be arranged,” Chagnon said.

Celoron Mayor Scott Schrecengost said he thinks the CLA will be able to get their equipment out during winter weather. He cited how he used to work for the CLA for a year and said the group is capable of providing the cleanup.

“It’s just a tragedy,” Schrecengost said regarding the fish kill.

He echoed his past sentiments and the feelings of town officials, including Ellicott Town Supervisor Pat McLaughlin, who suggested that the state provide more resources to take care of Chautauqua Lake, a state-owned lake, in regard to its issues of invasive weeds and blue-green algae.

“The state needs to step up and get this mess cleaned up this year and not wait until spring,” Schrecengost said. “That should be New York state’s problem. We’re already taxed enough as it is.”

Schrecengost shared another familiar sentiment for all the lake groups in the alliance to work together to provide a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the issues the lake faces. He said he’s tried to upscale the village but finds it difficult with the issues of the lake blemishing projects like the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, which opened in September.

“We need to get all of these lake entities together,” Schrecengost said.

McLaughlin was pleased that the Newells shared with so many what he called “an eye-opener.” He and others were glad to see three DEC representatives at the Burtis Bay meeting after a response last week from the organization that detailed how they thought the fish kill would not severely impact the lake’s fish population or the fisheries.

The DEC released a statement this week as well. Biologists were cited as confident that the fishery will remain healthy despite the fish kill caused by the accumulation of the weeds.

“While it is impossible to prevent natural occurrences such as the heavy wind events that caused the aquatic vegetation to amass so densely, there are techniques that can help to minimize excessive weed growth,” said Megan Gollwitzer from the DEC office of communications. “(The DEC) encouraged (lake groups and stakeholders) to continue working towards a multi-faceted management strategy to address weed management issues and lake use needs while balancing environmental stewardship responsibilities.”

Chautauqua Lake Partnership officials helped the Newells bring the fish kill to the attention of the management alliance last week at their bimonthly public meeting. After attending the Burtis Bay meeting, Vice President Jim Wehrfritz said he thought the visit went well.

“Milfoil has taken over this whole bay,” Wehrfritz said. “That’s not necessary to have in this lake. The idea of maintaining invasive weeds for fish habitat is a fallacy.”

Wehrfritz and President Jim Cirbus said they are trying to push the importance of herbicide treatments in conjunction with proper weed harvesting. The alliance and Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy are also spearheading stormwater management projects that should reduce the amount of phosphorus transmitted into the lake through runoff.

“I think (the visit) went well in the respect that we are able to point…to the severity of the situation,” McLaughlin said.

He wanted to clear up a misconception from the last alliance meeting that Ellicott is not proposing to chip in any funds for future herbicide treatments. McLaughlin has gone on record earlier and presently that the town will contribute $20,000 to 2019 herbicide applications.

“I’m hoping that down the road that there may be a better plan for making sure those weeds are harvested the way they should be,” McLaughlin added.

He suggested that hopefully the CLA is able to extend their harvesting season into the late summer and fall. He echoed what CLP officials said by hoping that weeds get harvested completely and do not build up along south basin shores.

“(The Newells) have every right to be vocal,” McLaughlin said. “They are representing those residents who live on that shoreline who are all suffering the same.”

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