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Friday, June 09, 2006

CLA Employees Go To Work For Summer

Weed Clean-Up Begins

Jarrett Wiggers, 20, a CLA employee, stands at the helm of one of the weed harvesters as they work on Burtis Bay. P-J photo by Patrick L. Fanelli

6/9/2006 - Jarrett Wiggers likes his job.From the helm of the Chadakoin — one of the Chautauqua Lake Association’s seven water-borne weed harvesters — the 20-year-old steered the vessel into the weed-choked waters of Burtis Bay.‘‘I’m not complaining,’’ said Wiggers, a business management major at Grove City College. ‘‘This is a pretty good summer job. You get to be outside. You get to learn a lot about the lake. I’d recommend it to anyone.’’He’s one of several CLA employees who help maintain the Chautauqua Lake shoreline through the summer months — sometimes a thankless job, but a necessary one.The young crew — minus a few for whom the summer season has yet to begin — started Tuesday aboard the harvesters, working to clear Burtis Bay of the unsightly weeds that have kept the boats of nearby residents drydocked.‘‘This is the worst I’ve seen it,’’ Wiggers said. ‘‘I’ve never seen it come to the top like this.’’The unprecedented growth in that area has been credited to the warm, sunny winter that made it the perfect growing season for the weeds.They look nasty — disrupting the clear, rippling waters and causing it to assume a still, swamp-like appearance. The weeds are especially bad for boats, sometimes tangling themselves around propellers or clogging themselves into jet ski impellers.The efforts of CLA employees are pretty noticeable, though. After only a few days, the waters they’ve worked are clearly distinguishable from the waters they haven’t.‘‘When we started over here, that was all the way to the docks,’’ Wiggers said, pointing toward the acres of weeds they hadn’t yet tackled. ‘‘It’s so thick it’s ridiculous. It’s like night and day over there.’’The harvesters are like gigantic amphibious lawn mowers, with huge blade-tipped conveyers in front that are lowered into the water — cutting the vine-line weeds then drawing them out and storing them underfoot.Wiggers said normally they just work the waterfront around people’s docks and where they swim, seldomly venturing farther than 200 feet from the shoreline. With seven harvesters working everyday, they’re able to do every inch of the shoreline at least once during the summer season.‘‘Our goal is to do everything once. That’s why we have different crews in different places,’’ he said, explaining how transport barges are sent out with the harvesters when they’re far from CLA headquarters to collect the debris.There’s nearly 44 miles of shoreline, though, and only limited resources to work with. Doing the whole shoreline 200 feet out is difficult enough, but having to concentrate on hot spots like Burtis Bay — where the harvesters are venturing as far as 2,000 feet out to cut paths for boats to travel — can sometimes set them back.CLA employees don’t just take care of the weeds, either. When there’s a storm or a carp die-off like last summer, they’re the ones who clean it up.‘‘Last year was the worst since we had to deal with the carp. You have no idea how bad they smell,’’ Wiggers said. ‘‘That was a pretty big setback, having to deal with the fish, but there was no one else to do it.’’Unfortunately, complaints seem plentiful. Chautauqua Lake has its fair share of waterfront residents who expect the waters to be weed-free all summer long, and expect the harvesters to work around their docks more than once a season.The CLA is a non-profit corporation, though, relying almost entirely on the generous contributions of local philanthropists. The equipment is incredibly expensive, and there’s no mechanism in place for financial support from local municipalities. Without donations — most coming from the coffers of a tiny handful of supporters — lakefront residents would be out of luck entirely.Fortunately, donations continue to be made and the CLA employees are on hand to clear the lakefront of weeds, as well as any other tasks that come about. Wiggers was out only an hour or so before the Chadakoin was filled to capacity — forcing him back to CLA headquarters.Assisted by workers on shore, he backed up against a vertically-angled conveyer that pulled the dense green and brown debris from the back of the vessel and dumped it into a waiting truck.Then it was all ahead full, back into the waters for another run — a full eight-hour shift at the helm of the Chadakoin.‘‘We’ll keep going until we get all along the lake,’’ Wiggers said.

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