Article Contributed by
Chautauqua County Office of the County Executive
County Executive PJ Wendel, joined by County staff unveiled the Chautauqua Lake Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at a press conference held on the evening of Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in the County Legislative Chambers in Mayville. The eagerly-awaited MOU is the next generation version of the 2019 Chautauqua Lake Memorandum of Agreement, which had a 2-year tenure and termed out at the end of April 2021. County Executive Wendel referred to the 2021 MOU as “Brilliant in its Simplicity,” as the 20+ tenets contained in the original MOA have been replaced with language that encourages cooperation among essential Chautauqua Lake Stakeholders. A majority of the stakeholders, who will be encouraged to sign the MOU in the coming weeks, were present at the event.
“The new agreement is strictly aimed at facilitating collaboration among the numerous stakeholders and will have a 2-year term,” said Wendel. “The 2019 MOA was a successful start as it facilitated a collaborative weed management program for Chautauqua Lake. The 2019 MOA did not fully resolve all stakeholder disagreements regarding funding and lake management activities; however, the stakeholders communicated much better and more often than in the past, and it resulted in a stronger effort to improve Chautauqua Lake.”
By the second year of the agreement, the following activities were underway or ongoing:
- A combined effort to improve near-shore cleanup utilizing Mobitracs, Barges, and Harvesters;
- Increased ability to more quickly respond to stakeholders’ needs;
- Use of a new herbicide product to control Eurasian Watermilfoil;
- Use of satellite-based Geographic Information System technology to track the movement of equipment and the location of herbicide applications on the Lake;
- More and better weed surveys; and
- Increased transparency, and the sharing of data and operations.
The term of the 2019 MOA was intentionally limited to just two years because the County wanted an opportunity to take what was learned from the MOA, and develop a better successor stakeholder agreement moving forward. Beginning in 2021, the County again retained the services of WSP (formerly Ecology & Environment) located in Lancaster, NY, to engage the Chautauqua Lake stakeholders regarding a successor agreement. WSP interviewed elected officials from each of the Towns and Villages, as well as representatives from the Not-for-Profits that are active in lake and watershed activities. The outcome of these interviews revealed that a majority of the Stakeholders believe that the 2019 MOA was good for Chautauqua Lake and an updated stakeholder agreement was the right thing to do.
The County’s challenge was to develop a successor to the 2019 MOA that most stakeholders could embrace, would “be forward looking,” and would build on our past success. In doing so, the County decided to retitle the stakeholder agreement as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Chautauqua Lake. The 2021 MOU is not a binding agreement, but rather a statement of the intent of all participants to work collaboratively and in good faith to achieve the common goal of an ecologically and economically healthy Chautauqua Lake.
The following are key foundational elements of the 2021 MOU:
- The agreement encompasses the Chautauqua Lake municipalities and Not-for-Profits;
- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has full and objective regulatory authority over Chautauqua Lake;
- The issues that the Chautauqua Lake stakeholders and regulators are challenged with are much broader than just weed management;
- It is not productive or consistent with the existing New York State regulatory framework to establish a local or “Chautauqua Lake Specific” regulatory structure to censure or punish those who are accused of unfairly criticizing or denigrating the intent or actions of other MOU participants;
- The 2021 MOU is not a prerequisite or rubric that must be navigated to qualify for local funding;
- The 2021 MOU is an understanding between those who have similar objectives – that is a sincere interest in improving Chautauqua Lake – which they can trust and rely upon with their fellow stakeholders to collaborate and interact in a mutually respectful manner without the threat of litigation