When Eleanor Roosevelt first visited the Institution in 1929, it was love at first sight. She said she was attracted to the ground’s idyllic atmosphere, the family environment and, perhaps more than anything, the natural beauty of Chautauqua Lake.
It was Roosevelt who ultimately took the first steps to preserve Chautauqua Lake for future generations. She made it her mission to secure a lake preservation bill, pushing the legislature all the way through higher government until its final confirmation.
Roosevelt may have initiated the lake’s preservation process, but now it’s up to Chautauquans to keep it going, said Tom Cherry, supervisor of the Chautauqua Utility District.
Cherry took the podium at the Chautauqua Property Owners Association’s annual meeting last Saturday in the Hall of Christ to advocate for the lake’s health. The meeting primarily focused on CUD’s plans to improve Chautauqua’s sewer plant — an estimated $7 million project — which would mean increased taxes for all property owners.
Last year, property owners approved an expenditure of $408,000 to determine a new sewage engineering design. This August, property owners will have the chance to vote on whether or not CUD should move forward with its plans to implement such a system. According to Cherry, CUD is under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to adapt its wastewater management system in accordance with stricter environmental regulations. These regulations deal with the amount of toxins and nutrients in the wastewater, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, which can seep into the lake and cause toxicity and algal blooms.
“This is not something we have a great deal of choice with,” Cherry said of the EPA’s changes. “But I want everyone to have enough information, so everyone’s comfortable with this vote.”
Hugh Butler, president of the CPOA, noted that if the vote is not approved and the waste treatment plant is not completed in the regulatory time limit — by 2018 — CUD will face fines.
Perhaps worse, Butler fears that failure to update the wastewater plant means a severely infected lake and a resulting decrease in tourism.
“We are required by the state and federal law to upgrade our plant,” Butler said. “More importantly, a reduction in tourism will cause the Institution to lose gate and donor income, and a downward cycle for all of us is inevitable.”
Community members at Saturday’s meeting were concerned with how the Institution’s role of preserving the lake’s health correlates with the role of surrounding communities. According to Cherry, there are three other primary communities involved that will be mandated to update their plants: Chautauqua Heights, the North Chautauqua Sewer District, and the South and Center Chautauqua Sewer District.
“Other communities are under the same strictures as us,” Cherry said. “They’re going to pay their share, just like you’re going to pay yours.”
As to what exactly Chautauquans’ “share” will be, CUD does not yet have exact numbers. A rough estimate has projected that the average property owner’s bill would increase by about $400 per year. The increase would remain active for 30 years, which would be the lifetime of bonds purchased to financially support the project.
While the goal of this project is to preserve the health of the lake, there was a dose of skepticism in Saturday’s audience concerning how much a new wastewater treatment plant would actually help. There are 18 municipalities located on the 42 miles stretching around Chautauqua Lake, and Chautauqua Institution only accounts for a mile and a half of lake shore.
Marie Nowak, an engineer from Nussbaumer & Clarke — the engineering company designing the new treatment plant — also took the microphone to give an update on the plant’s design plans.
According to Nowak, the final design plans were submitted on July 11 to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC will review the plans for 30 days, before returning them to the engineers with feedback, and hopefully, approval.
“We’ve been working with the Utility District throughout the whole design process,” Nowak said. “We’re at a point where we’re about 90 percent complete. Once we get that feedback and approval, we’re good to go.”
Cherry urged all property owners to attend the final vote to approve the motion to update Chautauqua’s wastewater treatment plant, scheduled for Aug. 12. This is a decision that will affect every single property owner, he said.
The meeting concluded with a brief update on other CPOA happenings and other local news of interest. This included an update on tuitioning of Ripley Central School students into the Chautauqua Lake Central School, which saw a resulting influx of 130 students. A Chautauqua property owner, Mary Lee Talbot, was also recently voted onto the CLCS school board.
The next CPOA annual meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 9 in the Hall of Christ. County Executive Vince Horrigan will be present to answer any further questions community members may have regarding the wastewater treatment plant project.