Environmental Protection Fund At Work In Chautauqua Region

Despite perceptions that Albany doesn’t fund initiatives in our region, New York state, through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and its predecessor, the Environmental Quality Bond Act (EQBA), has funded millions of dollars for projects and programs in Chautauqua County.

The EPF funds parks acquisition and development, farmland protection, historic preservation, habitat conservation, water quality and drinking water, wastewater, waterfront revitalization and recycling programs across the state.

How have we, the residents of this region, benefited from the EPF?

Municipal and state parks have been upgraded or built in many communities. Local parks and/or waterfront revitalization projects have been funded for Jamestown, Bemus Point, Celoron, Mayville, Ellery and Dunkirk, just to name some. Our families and tourist economy have benefited from the major EPF investments made at Midway Park. Miles of public fishing access rights have been purchased on area trout streams, and public boat launches have been maintained on our lakes.

How has the State EPF supported the health of Chautauqua Lake and its watershed? It’s provided substantial funding for the Chautauqua Lake Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Plan, Chautauqua Lake Dredging Feasibility Plan, Chautauqua Lake Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Management Plan and the Goose Creek and Dutch Hollow Creek Erosion Control Feasibility Plan.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has facilitated EPF and/or EQBA projects to conserve the Cheney Farm Lakeshore in Ellery, Stow Farm Lakeshore and Wells Bay Lakeshore Forest in North Harmony and Chautauqua Lake Outlet Greenway in Ellicott. The EPF also provided funds for CWC to match with private grants for outreach with streamside and lakeshore landowners to implement conservation practices such as stream erosion control and lakeshore native plant buffers. Currently, CWC is exploring partnering with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to permanently conserve the 11-acre Whitney Bay Lakeshore Wetland Forest Site on Chautauqua Lake.

The EPF also provides the state’s share of funds for county Soil & Water Conservation Districts across NYS. Our district assists farmers with reducing soil erosion and nutrient loss from crop fields, pastures, woodlands, shore lands and stream banks to improve the productivity and economic success of their farms. They also provide technical assistance to non-farm landowners.

The main revenue stream for the EPF is the NYS Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT). It generates between $400 million and $1 billion per year (keepprotectingny.com). These revenues are allocated annually in the state budget process by the state legislature, with a portion used to pay off the bonds issued for the 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act, a portion for the Environmental Protection Fund and the remainder for the state’s general fund. The governor and legislature have frequently “raided” the funds earmarked for the EPF for general fund purposes over the last 10 years, so much so that EPF spending has been shortchanged by hundreds of millions of dollars. A coalition of conservation organizations across the state, including CWC, are asking for the RETT allocation to the EPF to be increased to $200 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year, up from $153 million allocated by the Legislature for the 2013-14 year.

The EPF is the major source of state funding for addressing problems in our lakes and watersheds. With major investments needed to address the root causes of Chautauqua Lake’s sedimentation, hazardous algae blooms and nuisance aquatic plant problems, a fully funded EPF is needed to assist Chautauqua Lake communities and agencies with preventing soil erosion and intercepting nutrients on farms, yards and in wastewater systems before they reach our streams and lakes.

Currently, Chautauqua County, County Soil and Water Conservation District and village of Lakewood all have pending grant requests to the state for water quality improvement projects. If we don’t proceed effectively, the economic consequences of green, unusable waterways and the resulting loss of tourism and decline in tax base will be costly to all taxpayers of the Chautauqua region.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.

Join CWC on March 20 at 3 p.m. at Southern Tier Brewery for a discussion of CWC stream conservation projects and a presentation by NYSDEC biologist Scott Cornett on the results of a survey of local trout streams.