Working to Bring Federal Investment into Chautauqua County

(L to R): U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, Chautauqua County Legislator Pierre Chagnon, Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Dave McCoy, and Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello discuss Chautauqua County’s projects at the U.S. Capitol Building.
(L to R): U.S. Congressman Tom Reed, Chautauqua County Legislator Pierre Chagnon, Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Dave McCoy, and Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello discuss Chautauqua County’s projects at the U.S. Capitol Building.

Article Contributed by
Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Economic Development

Chautauqua County has been working hard to bring Federal funding into Chautauqua County for the improvement of the county’s aquatic resources.
“We have been making exceptional progress with preserving and improving our lakes and waterways,” said Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan. “Our two percent Occupancy Tax Program has delivered over 70 water quality improvement projects across the county and has proved to be a very powerful tool for leveraging New York State funding through the Environmental Protection Fund. We are also working hard to bring federal resources to Chautauqua County to support our larger projects. Two milestones that were recently achieved include flood mitigation studies for Walnut Creek and Cattaraugus Creek, which were authorized in the 2016 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) Bill.”

“Chautauqua County is so fortunate to have such incredible aquatic resources,” said Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello. “There are nearly 40 miles of shoreline and three harbors on Lake Erie, 42 miles of shoreline around Chautauqua Lake, and then when you consider Findley, Cassadaga and Bear Lakes and the Chadakoin River, it’s easy to understand why our economy is so strongly linked to water. We have been working very hard to build strong relationships with the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Districts of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Aside from USACE’s regulatory role involving environmental permits, it is responsible for the operation and maintenance of Barcelona, Dunkirk and Cattaraugus Creek harbors. These harbors are of strategic importance because they are Harbors of Refuge on the Great Lakes Navigation System.”

Chautauqua County Legislator Pierre Chagnon explained, “Chautauqua County is located on the divide between the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence and the Allegheny/Ohio/Mississippi drainage systems, so our north county waterways are within the jurisdiction of the Buffalo District of the USACE and our south county waterways fall within the jurisdiction of the Pittsburgh District of the USACE. What is interesting about the USACE is that it is actually a part of the Department of Defense and its activities are programmed by the U.S. Congress. This is a challenge because there are so many pressing needs across the country and we need to find ways to make our voices heard.”

“Since 2015 we have been hosting meetings with the USACE and our regulatory partners to talk about ways we can accomplish more together,” said Chagnon. “This year we had over 25 come to the table to discuss Chautauqua Lake issues, including water levels and the operation of the Warner Dam. The outcomes of our March 24 meeting were significant and included a commitment from the National Weather Service to pursue establishing a forecasting point. This will provide better weather forecasts for Chautauqua Lake with the goal of being able to more effectively operate the Warner Dam to lower flood risk and to maintain desirable lake level during the summer recreational season. The USACE is one of the few agencies with the skillsets to evaluate the hydrology of the 100,000-acre Chautauqua Lake watershed and hydraulics of the Chadakoin River and Warner Dam. It feels that we are a good candidate to participate in its ‘Silver Jackets’ program at no cost, which will extensively model the watershed system. Having the updated watershed model and improved weather forecasting algorithms could really make a difference in the way we prepare for and respond to large storm events and drought conditions. The Pittsburgh District of the USACE also gave us some great news that a feasibility study we requested to assess potential aquatic ecosystem restoration, sedimentation and shoreline remediation, watershed erosion, and water recreation projects for Chautauqua Lake had been included in the USACE’s 7001 List to Congress. The 7001 List was developed by Congress to qualify funding requests to assure that they are consistent with the USACE’s core missions. The next step will be to advocate to Congress to have the study authorized in the 2018 WRDA Bill and eventually included in the President’s List for funding. It takes time, effort and a lot of advocacy to bring federal funding into Western New York and Chautauqua County.”

“In early March we traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for our projects,” said Borrello. “We met with the USACE Regional Implementation Team, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) water infrastructure finance Director and our Congressional representatives and talked about projects such as dredging our north county harbors and funding the wastewater projects on Chautauqua Lake. It was a good experience and the feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone we visited listened to concerns and made suggestions on how to best move forward. We have no doubt in our minds that the news regarding the 7001 List was the result of our visits.”

For more information about Chautauqua County’s efforts to fund its projects, please contact Chautauqua County Watershed Coordinator Dave McCoy at (716) 661-8915.