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WILSON – Charles “Chuck” Gauvreau, owner of Wilson Boat Works, figures he lost around $100,000 worth of business last year because of the silt build-up that made it difficult – or impossible – for boats to enter and exit areas of the Wilson Harbor.

“We had to take out boats in about a foot and a half of mud last year, and boat owners don’t like it when you drag their boats through the mud,” said Gauvreau, whose 3-year-old business ties into Sunset Bay Marina. “We had to do it that way for every one but three boats last year for winter storage.

“Right now, we’re down to 65 percent capacity, and we should be at 100 percent,” he added. “We have 168 docks, but we’ve lost 25 to 30 docks in the past three years here that we can’t rent out anymore, especially in the back area, because of the silt build-up.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee the dredging project, has learned it will receive some of the $60.4 billion earmarked for response, recovery and mitigation costs related to Hurricane Sandy to dredge harbors nationwide, including Wilson, Olcott and Oak Orchard in Orleans County.

“We’ve been allotted $50,000 to $70,000 for each harbor for assessments of the impact that occurred as a result of the storm and additional funding is available to take care of the impact,” said Michael Asquith, dredging program manager for the Corps’ office in Buffalo.

Asquith declined to reveal the amount released to actually dredge, but said, “I believe the funding necessary to take care of this is here. Sampling of all of the harbors will establish if, in fact, there was an impact.”

He said, “One of the requirements of this funding is that the harbors be returned to pre-storm conditions and it’s a bit of a catch because some of these harbors were not in the best of condition before the storm. But we’re doing a reality check and there are two things we want to do that we think are reasonable and beneficial. We need to dredge to a minimum depth of six feet in order to get our equipment in and to dredge out at least two feet [more] just makes economic sense.

“In Olcott and Oak Orchard, we feel this would be very beneficial to the harbors and alleviate any problems there,” he said. “Wilson is not so clear because we plan to dredge up to the first bend in the channel and stop there, because there would have been no shoaling caused by the storm beyond that point.”

It’s still not enough

But that doesn’t appease the folks in Wilson.

“If you’re going to dredge, you have to start from the source,” Gauvreau said. “You can’t just dredge the mouth – that does nothing for the harbor. It would be a waste of money because within one season, the silt would wash right back in” from Twelve-Mile Creek.

That inaccessibility has international repercussions, too. Canadian boaters must be able to reach the video conference unit located at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park to contact U.S. Customs when they visit and it’s located at the innermost part of the harbor.

“If they can’t check in, they won’t come back and half of my business is Canadian,” Gauvreau said.

He also believes there is a safety issue.

“Wilson harbor is designated a federal safe harbor and the next one is Irondequoit Bay, so if someone gets into trouble, there’s nowhere for them to go around here,” he said.

Wilson Town Supervisor Joseph Jastrzemski agreed.

“I’m happy money was earmarked for dredging the harbor, but not happy it’s only to do a portion of the harbor,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense not to dredge the entire length of the federal channel,” which goes to Wilson-Tuscarora State Park.

“This is about flow, and it’s a two-fold problem,” he added. “Twelve-Mile Creek empties into the harbor and during Hurricane Sandy, the creek was hit with a lot of rain and there’s no place for that silt to go. The water needs to flow out to the lake. There’s no sense in bringing the equipment that far and then just stopping right there. They are supposed to maintain this federal channel and it hasn’t been dredged since the 1990s.

“I’ve been fighting for this for nine years,” he added. “There is $6.2 billion in the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Where’s the money? That’s my question. Let’s free up some of that money and do what we’re supposed to do.”

Lawmakers seek more

Grant Loomis, spokesman for Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said, “The hunt for funding continues for routine maintenance. It hasn’t been done and that’s why we’re at the point we’re at now. The first step is making up for the work that’s long overdue and the congressman will be seeking additional funding so that the harbors are maintained as they should be maintained.”

To that end, Collins is co-sponsoring the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, which would help ensure that the funding is in place for routine maintenance dredging. The bipartisan legislation guarantees that funds collected on imports at ports in the U.S. are used solely for dredging and maintaining the country’s waterways.

Asquith said, “It’s a safe bet from the federal standpoint that we’ll be dredging next summer … If money is not an issue and depending on conditions in the harbors, dredging every five to seven years sounds about right” in order to properly maintain them.

Jastrzemski said Collins, Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and the Niagara County Legislature, particularly David Godfrey, R-Wilson, and Cheree Copelin, R-Niagara Falls, have been helpful in pushing for funding.

In the meantime, the communities are scheduling their testing in order to make sure they will be able to dump the silt in open lake waters, rather than have to find secure landfills, which is much more costly.

“We’re going to try and get our sampling done as soon as possible,” said Newfane Town Supervisor Timothy Horanburg. He said the state Department of Environmental Conservation has given the town the go-ahead.

“Our Town Board already authorized the money for the sampling and now we’re looking at a couple of companies that do this kind of work and the certain sampling that we’re going to need,” he said. “It’ll cost about $20,000 to do the sampling and we have to pay for this – we have no choice.

“Our creek is an area of concern,” he said, referring to industry residuals in Eighteen-Mile Creek from long ago. “We last dredged in the early 1990s and it was nip and tuck, but we were allowed open lake disposal.

“The mobilization costs alone – just to bring in the equipment to do the dredging – is about $300,000 and that’s without doing any of the actual work,” he said.

“So, we need to have our testing already done so that we’re ready for the dredging. I need to be ready because we couldn’t afford to bring that equipment in here ourselves. We’ll try and piggyback on what the Corps is doing and we have to do it in a certain window of time because of the fisheries here.”

Jastrzemski added, “There was a study done a few years ago by Niagara University and it said our boating and fishing industry brings in $30 million in tax revenues to our county. It’s the lifeblood of our business district in Wilson. It brings in tax money from sales tax and boating and fishing licenses and they need to put some of that money back into maintaining the harbors.”