On the water

Reed, Con Club discuss Lake Erie issues

Alison Hunt, district director of Tom Reed’s Office; Lance Ehrhardt, Vice President of Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association; Congressman Tom Reed; Frank Schoenacker, Operator of Infinity Charters; Zen Olow, president of the Chautauqua County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs; Jared Meyer, Captain of OutKast Sportfishing and Gary Katta, Charter Captain and Fire Captain for the city of Dunkirk pose in front of Lake Erie at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club Friday.

On a sunny, yet windy afternoon, a small group gathered, nonchalantly, at a table in the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club in Dunkirk to discuss the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The initiative helps to do things such as maintain fisheries in the Great Lakes, which has been crucial to ensuring steelhead have a healthy habitat and population in Lake Erie; removes fish spawning impediments in Lake Erie; facilitates projects to help address environmental, climate and human activities, which have led to degraded water quality, diminished habitat, smaller native fish and wildlife populations and our changed ecosystem; and address the issues of invasive species, harmful algal blooms and restoration of water quality.

Casual conversation abound as talk of the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Erie, flowed freely at the meeting between Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) and members of the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club Friday.

“I like to sit down with folks on the front line, to talk about the issues that are impacting them,” Reed stated. “These are our local fishermen, here, in the conservation club, and I just want to see how the lake is doing in regards to that activity. Fishing is a part of our tourism industry — a huge economic engine. We want them to know that the money is in there, tell them that we’re standing firm so that those resources will be there in the future budgets.”

The original proposed budget was for $30 million, but after leveraging by representatives up-and-down the coastal shores of the Great Lakes, they were able to get the plan fully endorsed by President Trump in the amount of $300 million.

Areas of concern brought up at the sit down included invasive species, such as flying carp, which have been plaguing the waters around Chicago and cormorant, which has been an issue closer to home. The ratio of walleye in the lake to bait fish, such as emerald shiners and smelt were also mentioned.

“The walleye population has sprung way up in this lake versus before. The worry now is the their food, the smelt population is way down,” Lance Ehrhardt, vice president of the Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association said. “I know they’ve been doing studies on them. We’re going to have a lot of hungry fish if they crash. They estimate 50 million fish in the lake now as opposed to a few years ago when it was down around 35 million.”

This is something Reed is going to look into.

Another major issue shared was talk of the possibility of windmills along the American coastlines of Lakes Erie and Ontario.

According to the discussion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to put 50 windmills out on Lake Erie, and that is going to restrict fishing. The area that would be allegedly blocked off around each windmill would be about a half-mile radius. There’s talk to do the entire length from the Pennsylvania stateline to Buffalo and the same thing on Ontario as well.

“There’s major spawning beds, all throughout the lake,” Zen Olow, president of the Chautauqua County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs stated.

“It costs three times as much to put them in the water as to put them in the ground,” Frank Schoenacker, operator of Infinity Charters added. “From a dollars and cents standpoint, how can that pay back? There’s no infrastructure here to maintain industrial stuff. What do you do in the winter time when there’s ice out there?”

Reed answered that, “we have a natural gas plant here. We’d love to see that come back online. Natural gas is not a bad thing. It would take out all the energy production that they’d put out there in windmills.”

“It’d be nice to see the government step in and say ‘no, these are federal waters, you’re not putting them up there,'” Gary Katta, charter captain and fire captain for the city of Dunkirk added.

“We’re the largest producers of oil in the world now,” Reed responded. “And how that has changed the energy policy of America? It made us so secure. The natural gas reserves we have are estimated now at hundreds of years. But there’s an extreme with some environmentalists now, that we can’t even have that in the conversation any longer.”

Reed cited the study on NRG and his feelings on the shuttered plant to the OBSERVER prior to the discussion.

“The study (on NRG) is in process and we don’t have any tentative information. We don’t have any early indications of what the study is showing, but it’s being worked on, and at the end of the day, I think we all agree, regardless of how you felt about the plant, how you felt, whether or not you wanted to have a natural gas plant here in New York state, I think all New Yorkers should be rightfully concerned that a facility like that has been shut down. We better come together then to make sure that that facility doesn’t become an eyesore and actually remains a productive part of our inventory of properties here in the district,” Reed said.

“I’m not giving up hope. Looking at the portfolio of demands of America, looking at the conversion success stories that we’ve seen across the country, natural gas power plants are a critical piece of our national energy plan. I’m not giving up hope, but I also recognize that this is New York state. Clearly the extreme agenda out of Albany wants to kill all fossil fuel sources. Somehow they live in this utopian world where there can be no fossil fuels in our energy portfolio which is just not reality. So we’re going to have to take that on so maybe the reality is not so optimistic as I’m trying to remain committed to. Bottom line is that we will come together as a community and address that facility and make sure it’s in the most productive use possible. That’s what the study is all about,” said Reed.

Other issues discussed briefly included trees out on the breakwall, which the congressman is going to look into having removed before they cause further damage, and the drifting spread of herbicides in the lakes.