By Matthew Reitz
The dredging campaigns on both sides of Lake Neatahwanta have ceased operations for the year, but planning is already underway for a third year of dredging, according to local officials.
Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward, Sr. said the second year of dredging in the city—administered by The Lake Neatahwanta Revitalization Corporation—finished earlier this fall, but the Revitalization Corporation and the Lake Neatahwanta Reclamation Committee, which operates the dredging in Granby, are already making plans to continue the cleanup efforts next year.
“We plan on dredging again. We’re going to keep dredging until they let us open up that beach,” Woodward said of Stevenson Beach, which was closed in July 1988 after the Oswego County Health Department discovered high levels of fecal coliform of bacteria.
The opening of Stevenson Beach is a major goal Woodward said he’d like to see accomplished next year.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop addressing the issues on the lake, because we’re not, but that’s the first goal,” Woodward said.
A collaborative effort between both groups could be in the works to help remove the sediment lining the shores near Stevenson Beach. Granby’s committee has offered to help Fulton’s by performing the cleanup on the northeast shore of the lake where the beach is located.
“We can get most of that beach area cleaned,” Ed Williamson, who chairs Granby’s committee, said. “It doesn’t make any difference to us where we pump from. The whole thing needs to be done.”
Williamson said Granby’s committee took on the project so the lake could again “be an asset to the city of Fulton, as well as the town of Granby and the surrounding area,” and he hopes the committee can help get the beach area cleaned up.
“It’ll be a tourism asset, (and boost) sales tax. That kind of stuff,” Williamson said of the lake. “Plus, it’ll give the people a place to go and enjoy life like we did when I was a young kid.”
According to Woodward, the dredge used by Groh Dredging and Marine Construction, the contractor used by Fulton’s committee up to this point, would leave the water in the area too deep for a beach. However, the dredge being used by Granby’s committee is able to create the proper depth. Woodward said there had been plans to clean the area by hand, but Williamson’s offer to use the committee’s dredge would help speed up the process.
The Revitalization Corporation, using Groh as a contractor, removed 10,000 cubic yards of sediment in 2015, about half as much as the 20,000 cubic yards cleared during the 2014 campaign. Woodward said the decrease was expected due to funding constraints. He said the organization spent all the money allocated for this year, and “the plan is to continue (dredging) as long as we can fund it.”
As for future funding, both organizations will receive a $100,000 grant to continue the cleanup in 2016, according to Woodward and Williamson. Woodward said donations from the community have gone a long way, but the project would be near impossible without the help of State Sen. Patty Ritchie, who has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds for the endeavor over the last couple years.
“There’s funding for next year, but beyond that I can’t tell you,” Woodward said. “We have no idea what our budget, or the state budget, or anybody’s budget will look like.”
Rather than hire a contractor like Fulton, Granby’s committee opted to purchase the dredging equipment and conduct the work with volunteers. Williamson said there are about 15 people trained to use the equipment so far, but there are plans to train even more in 2016.
Granby’s committee did not spend the entire $100,000 grant it received in 2015, according to Williamson, but he expects the unspent money will carry over to 2016. He said the committee didn’t receive its contract until after Aug. 1, and there was “no way” it could have spent all the money before October when the dredging operation wrapped up for the season.
“I’m assuming we will just keep extending that out until we use the $300,000 (total),” Williamson said.
Williamson has reached out to the state Department of Environmental Conservation asking for permission to begin dredging in May next year, rather than the current July start date, but said he has not yet received a response. The DEC typically does not allow dredging until July in an attempt to avoid disrupting spawning fish. Williamson said if he doesn’t hear back from the DEC, the cleanup efforts will resume on July 18, and the committee plans to have two shifts operating next year.
“There will be a day crew and afternoon crew,” Williamson said. “They’ll work until dark on the lake.”
Progress on the lake hasn’t moved particularly quickly thus far, but it is making a visible difference, according to Woodward and Williamson.
Williamson said the operation in Granby has opened up several natural springs that feed into the lake, and the clean water coming in is helping improve the water quality.
Woodward simply said “everything you take out of there is going to improve that water quality vastly.”
In addition to the high levels of bacteria that closed the lake decades ago, blue-green algae has flourished over the years due to high temperatures and shallow water. The blue-green algae presents its own threat, as it can create what the DEC calls “harmful algae blooms,” which can produce toxins that are harmful to humans and animals, and cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, and skin and throat irritation. The algae blooms also create unpleasant appearances and odors, and cause ecological problems, such as reduced oxygen levels that make it difficult for wildlife to thrive, according to the DEC.
Officials say built-up sediment is what caused the lake to become shallower and hotter which, when combined with high phosphorus levels, helped the bacteria and algae prosper.