Joint Operations, New Equipment Continue United Lake Effort

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel (standing) hitches a ride on a newly-deployed Chautauqua Lake Association-operated skimmer, while a Town of Chautauqua Mobitrac addresses the shoreline in front of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel.

Article Contributed by
Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Development

July marked a new milestone for joint operations maintenance on Chautauqua Lake. Coordinated near-shore cleanup efforts will now benefit from the addition of two aquatic skimmer vessels, which were deployed from Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA) headquarters in Lakewood last month.

Since taking to the water, the new skimmers have joined Town of Chautauqua Mobitrac barges in both the North and South basins of the lake, cooperating on the cleanup effort from severe storms and heavy rainfall which struck on the weekend of July 17th.

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel visited the Celoron lakefront in the wake of the storms and flooding to witness the joint operations teams in action, and to discuss the progress made to improve lake maintenance coordination. Joining Wendel for the demonstration were CLA Executive Director Doug Conroe, Town of Chautauqua Supervisor Don Emhardt, Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Dave McCoy, and Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance Executive Director Randall Perry.

“These joint operations between the CLA and Town of Chautauqua are an enormous asset to ensuring Chautauqua Lake can be enjoyed by residents and visitors,” said Wendel. “No one group can undertake lake cleanup and preservation efforts alone. By working together, the opportunities that could be coming to our county if we show that unity and cohesive collaboration, are immense.”

The local leaders discussed a number of topics, including increased boat traffic on Memorial Day and Independence Day, the damage caused by recent storms, and the significant economic impact that improved lake conditions can have for the County. Those in attendance noted that continuing to endeavor towards a united maintenance program on the lake serves as a positive example for other waterbodies around New York and beyond, and discussed how to bolster that success in the future through the different funding opportunities available.

This summer marks the second year of the joint operations program between the CLA and the Town, which are working to increase capacity, efficiency and responsiveness to near-shore conditions. The collaboration is intended to allow for a fast-response capability to all areas of the lake, marshalling different types of equipment and new strategies to achieve the unified maintenance goals of various stakeholders.

“When the CLA came on board we really made a big step up as far as what we could haul, because we weren’t hauling as far,” said Town of Chautauqua Supervisor Don Emhardt. “We are still learning (the Mobitrac) capabilities.”

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel (sitting) and Town of Chautauqua Mobitrac driver Alex Tatoian (standing) offload floating debris to a new Chautauqua Lake Association-operated skimmer vessel in Celoron.

Working in conjunction, the skimmers and Mobitracs serve as an example of projects made possible thanks to funding leveraged through different state and local channels. The joint operations program and the deployment of advanced equipment have been made possible because of years of cooperation between the County, Alliance, CLA, municipalities and local foundations.

“They (the skimmers) are suited to pick up masses of floating weeds in open water quite well, and the reason that we brought them in to begin with is they are narrower than the other machines, so we can get them in to tight dock situations and skim floaters in between docks,” said Chautauqua Lake Association Executive Director Doug Conroe.

The skimmers have a 2-ton carrying capacity, and are able to funnel floating weeds and debris onto their storage deck using a pair of articulated conveyor wings on the front of the vessel. Since their deployment, CLA operators have worked with Mobitrac drivers to determine the most efficient method of using the machines together. Mobitracs, which move at a slower speed relative to other equipment such as transports, are able to work more efficiently by offloading to waiting CLA skimmers.

The recent storms and shoreline flooding offered an early test of the new CLA vessels and the joint operations framework. While the transition from collecting floating vegetation to removing debris was straightforward, the storms carried brush and trees as well as cut firewood from shoreline properties to unexpected locations. Coordination between multiple stakeholders and dozens of pieces of equipment were necessary to respond effectively to the adverse lake and near-shore conditions. In total, the CLA collected 13 truckloads of floating debris from the Bemus Point narrows in three days, in addition to removing 11 barge loads of trees from the lake. CLA trucks hauled 21 loads of debris from the area while Village of Bemus Point Department of Public Works trucks carried 9 loads, in a fast-response effort to improve navigability and boater safety in the area. Cooperation between the Town, CLA and the Village serves as another example of the ongoing efforts to expand upon and improve lake maintenance coordination, while the rapid response to storm cleanup was made possible thanks to versatile modern equipment.

“The (joint operations) program allows us to better assist the homeowner with lakefront maintenance,” said Conroe. “The past two years of joint operations have been undertaken in addition to the ongoing range of mechanical harvesting and shoreline cleanup efforts which the CLA provides for both the North and South basins.”

The skimmers were purchased through a Clean Water Infrastructure Act Environmental Protection Fund Water Quality Improvement Project Grant administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Chautauqua Lake Mechanized Floating Vegetation Collection Project application for these new vessels was awarded to the County in 2018 for $375,000. Funding for the four Mobitracs was provided by the Town of Chautauqua, a New York State and Municipal Facilities (SAM) grant, and Alliance grants using funds provided by the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, and The Lenna Foundation.

“The increased cooperation among our members to achieve common goals continues to benefit Chautauqua Lake and its many uses and users,” said Alliance Executive Director Randall Perry. “The Alliance applauds the work being done through the joint operations program and rapid cleanup efforts following recent storms, and we look forward to further developing these collaborative efforts in the future. We thank our funders at the County, State, and local Foundations for their continued support of these programs to aid Chautauqua Lake.”

This increased communication and sharing of information to achieve a common overall purpose exemplifies the spirit of the new Chautauqua Lake Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) released by the County in May.

For more information regarding this program, please contact Dave McCoy at 716-661-8915 or Randall Perry at 716-661-8923.

For more information regarding joint operations and the CLA’s weekly work plans and reports, please visit