“This is an exciting time for Chautauqua Lake,” Chagnon said.
Despite recent controversies such as the Chautauqua Institution lawsuit against the town of Ellery and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and poor lake conditions recently capped by the Burtis Bay fish kill in November, Chagnon and Brickley expressed an air of optimism in regard to lake health and collaboration among the lake groups in 2019 and beyond.
“I couldn’t be happier to be in the middle of the storm right now,” Chagnon said.
The chairman and county legislator joked about the lake being his nursemaid while he was growing up and said that he has a personal drive to give back to the community as much as possible, explaining his various volunteer endeavors.
As he represents District 8 including the town of Ellery, he noticed early on in his legislative career that the lake would need to be one of his top priorities.
Chagnon explained how he along with other alliance founders had low expectations for the organization. He wasn’t sure how many member organizations would initially join or how much money the lone staff member, Brickley, could raise. Six grants were applied for in 2015, and all six were awarded.
“I would have had more optimistic expectations and planned better for success,” said Chagnon, who explained how the original biggest challenge was being able to accommodate for their own successes.
Brickley noted that their biggest present challenge is how to consider the perspectives of all the member organizations within the alliance: lakefront municipalities, county government, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Chautauqua Lake Association, Chautauqua Lake Partnership, Chautauqua Institution and multiple foundations and other boards. Every future speaker for the 2019 series comes from one of these member organizations.
“The challenge is that balance,” Brickley said.
She’s aware of the influence the alliance has to allocate and award grant funding based on project submissions from the members. The alliance received 12 submissions last year, and both Chagnon and Brickley said they want to improve the application process this year.
Chagnon explained how the alliance assists with the allocation of county funds. He said it was frustrating for many legislators who weren’t aware of the needs of the lake and its stakeholders to vote on funding for those organizations when some legislators didn’t have a jurisdiction in the county that connected to the lake. With donations to the alliance, funding can be spread to member organizations from there.
That doesn’t stop members from pursuing their own methods and sources for funding. The nonprofit status and collaborative role of the alliance merely helps with the funding process, but doesn’t overtake it for its members.
Chagnon addressed the makeup of the alliance’s board of voting members as well. With so many member organizations, only a few can be represented on the board of eight members. Half of the slots are taken by County Executive George Borrello, Chagnon as a representative from the Chautauqua County Legislature and two representatives from local municipalities. The CLP has been especially outspoken about how it views the board as not being representative enough of the entire alliance.
“That has been a point of some contention,” Chagnon said, and he added that there is gradual turnover of members and that there shouldn’t be a board of too many individuals. At-large board members are elected within the alliance.
Some member organizations have also suggested a call to the state government for it to take care of Chautauqua Lake since it is state-owned property. Chagnon said he understands that position but also noted that it would be hard for the DEC to further maintain the lake on top of its regulatory actions concerning bodies of water and more in the environment. Chagnon said he isn’t concerned with the argument to get the state to be much more active because he doesn’t think it’s a goal that can be accomplished in his lifetime.
The alliance duo concluded by expressing how the “myth” that the alliance members don’t work together is not reality. Brickley said she’s inspired to see so much concern and discussion regarding Chautauqua Lake because it tells her that many county residents are passionate about its biggest natural resource.
“Most of these projects are being done in collaboration and coordination with each other,” Brickley said.
Chagnon highlighted various developments that are set to continue throughout the year, including meetings with an agency to discuss the possibility of a taxing district to support the lake, the county becoming a member of a Clean Lakes Collaboration to voice concerns for state lakes, recently expanded sewer districts and more active lake organizations.
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