SUNSET BAY – Community leaders on Tuesday presented health and safety issues – as well as the need for an accessible small boat harbor for recreation – to Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham, commander of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Burcham brought several staff members from the Buffalo office for her Chautauqua County visit, which was coordinated by U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.
The visit started with a tour of the Chautauqua Lake area, and the final stop was in Sunset Bay near the Cattaraugus Creek area.
Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, talked about the need for dredging the creek and harbor at Sunset.
He said flooding has increased since the last time the Army Corps dredged the area in 1983.
Borrello said that the flooding has caused some health and safety issues.
Robert Weiskerger, a fire chief, described the scene when a home in Sunset caught fire in the middle of three feet of flood waters in February 2011.
Weiskerger called the circumstances dire because volunteers had trouble reaching the hydrant as well as bringing in equipment.
The home was a loss, but neighboring homes were only minimally damaged by heat from the fire, the chief said.
Sunset Bay has had years of problems with flooding, sometimes caused by ice jams and other times due to excessive rain, Borrello said. He said he believes that having the channel in the creek deepened would result in fewer flooding issues.
Borrello also said that the contract with the Army Corps called for dredging every five years since the installation of the breakwater in 1983. The routine maintenance has not been done, he said.
Borrello and others have urged the Army Corps to look at dredging the other harbors in Chautauqua County since it became known that the Barcelona Harbor, near Westfield, would be dredged in May 2014.
In Dunkirk, Mayor A.J. Dolce spoke to the brigadier general and her staff members and urged that his city’s harbor be considered for dredging work due to the economic impact on tourism, including charter fishing businesses.
The Barcelona, Dunkirk and Sunset Bay harbors are main harbors along Lake Erie in Chautauqua County. Barcelona’s project would mean that lake dredging equipment would already be in the water near the other two harbors.
Borrello said the cost of getting the equipment to the area can result in a charge of $300,000. He said each community could save a substantial amount if the equipment was already nearby.
Corps officials said that if federal funding was available for harbor dredging, it would cover 59 percent of the cost. The remaining 41 percent would have to be covered by local and state governments.
Residents of Sunset Bay said the depth of the local channel there has been as low as 18 inches, making it impassable for many recreational boats.