Dredging of Cattaraugus Creek may be considered a recreational issue for some, but it also poses a risk to the lives of those living in Sunset Bay.
Sunset Bay Fire Chief Rob Weiskerger sent a letter to Congressman Tom Reed’s Office describing an incident with ice-jam flooding on February 18, 2011.
“At approximately midnight, we got dispatched to a ‘working house fire believed to be fully involved and unknown if occupied.’ As I sat in the command center as incident commander, my heart immediately sank into my chest,” Weiskerger wrote.
With waters as deep as 3 feet, firefighters were called to the fully-involved fire. They had the task of hooking up a hose to a nearly-submerged hydrant and fighting a fire in waist-deep, 32-degree water. Cold-water suits and lines attaching them to the truck were required to fight off hypothermia and make sure no one was swept away.
Weiskerger said the department was lucky this time because the fire was very close to the fire station and a voluntary evacuation had already taken place. However, he also thought about what could have happened if these factors were not on firefighters’ side.
“Had this fire occurred on a different road in our fire district, the consequences could have been disasterous for this community. Some of our roads are packed with three-story homes, built rather close to one another. Given the conditions we were faced with that night, we could have easily lost an entire block of homes and potentially lives if they were not evacuated,” he explained in the letter.
He asked Reed for help in moving dredging efforts forward if there was any chance this would lessen the severity of flooding in Sunset Bay.
Shortly thereafter, Reed sent Weiskerger’s letter and his own to Army Corps of Engineer’s Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy.
Reed firmly stated, “So let me be very clear, your continued failure to attend this matter will result in the loss of human life.”
He asks why dredging has not occurred in 30 years, what is taken into account when funding projects and if there was a design flaw in the structure of the breakwater. He also requests that this project receive federal funding.
Legislator George Borrello explained he was behind having Weiskerger and other residents and emergency personnel write testimonials and send pictures and video about the 2011 flood.
“I have been working with Congressman Reed for dredging of the federal channel for the purpose of public safety. … Reed’s office complied (the letters, photos and videos) to put before the Army Corps of Engineers to say this is just how important this is. It is not just about boats and economic impact, it is about public safety and putting them on notice to let them know they need to fund this project, which is key to keeping (ice-jam) flood waters moving faster (out into the lake),” he said.
He clarified that this effort is to have the federal channel dredged and breakwater repaired. The town is currently in the process of having the recreational channel dredged.
Borrello reported “a reasonable bid” has been received for dredging the Cattaraugus Creek recreational channel and the Dunkirk Harbor recreational channel and this will be discussed at the next respective municipal meetings.