Focusing on local waters

SILVER CREEK — United States Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, visited the Silver Creek Village Boat Launch Tuesday to remind residents of the importance of caring for our local waterways.

Reed has been working with a bi-partisan team of local and regional politicians to secure funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and discussed his continued support of the dredging projects in Chautauqua County.

“We wanted to come together to recognize a hard-fought battle that we just went through in regards to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding,” Reed began. “In the president’s ‘skinny budget,’ it was proposed to ‘zero out’ the Great Lakes funding. Working together on a bi-partisan basis, and working with our local officials. We were very successful in making the argument that Great Lakes Restoration funds make sense, they have a return on their investment that is significant, and working with the appropriators, we were able to secure $300 million for that line in regards to the funding level in the final omnibus bill that was passed last week.”

Reed said the team is proud of its effort, and that all those involved believe that strengthening the region can only be accomplished by strengthening its residential and commercial appeals — which always lead back to water.

Speaking of, the crowd was interrupted by the infamous “Boat Launch Goose,” also nicknamed “Lucy” and “The Sergeant” by locals, who flew noisily overhead. The American Flag was also almost torn out of its holder more than once by lake-whipped winds.

“But this is why we live in this area; we love it!” quipped Reed, looking at “The Sergeant.” “We fish this creek and we fish the other creeks, and that’s why we love this place and call it home.”

Reed also highlighted other initiatives, like the WRDA (Water Resource Development Act) bill, which contains authorizing language for flood control studies along Chautauqua County’s waterways. He also said funding has been secured to do more repairwork to the breakwall in Westfield’s Barcelona Harbor — all that’s left to do is a bit of paperwork.

“That will take care of the breakwall over there in Barcelona,” he said. “So those are some great positive developments for Chautauqua County when it comes to our Great Lakes priorities and our waterway priorities.”

Reed thanked the fishermen and conservation enthusiasts in attendance, saying their voices were “heard loud and clear,” though he admitted “there is more to do.”

County Legislator George Borrello, R-Hanover, who is also running for Chautauqua County executive, also spoke, thanking Reed for being the area’s “champion in Washington” and securing “vital funding” for the Great Lakes.

“This is the largest fresh water system in the world,” Borrello said. “Twenty percent of all the fresh water is right here in our Great Lakes, right here in our backyard. It’s so vital to protect that.”

Borrello said the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been important for the past 10 years in assuring residents have a supply of clean water (including drinking water), addressing invasive species, and providing access to the lakes and waterways for recreational and commercial purposes.

“It’s very important to understand that (water) is a vital part of infrastructure. … It’s water that’s used for manufacturing, in the food processing plants that we have right here in Chautauqua County.”

Borrello also shared with the OBSERVER that Lake Erie, and the Silver Creek Boat Launch in particular, hold a special place in his heart. His family put down roots in that sand generations ago, and his grandfather, also named George Borrello, is the one who installed the boat launch.

“That was my grandfather,” he said. “When the grant for (the boat launch) wasn’t enough, he brought his own crew and his own equipment down here and he dug it out 30 years ago. He operated the back hoe and did the work. The park (next door) is also named for him; he obtained another grant for that. He believed in the waterfront; I want to continue his legacy.”

Without funding, without research and studies, Borrello said, the area will continue to resort to temporary solutions in emergency conditions: Digging out channels only to have them fill back in with silt a year later. Clearing away logs from creek mouths as the clock ticks and flood worries ravage the nerves of officials and residents alike. It’s expensive, it’s ineffective, and it’s dangerous not to take care of the waterways and their banks.

“What people need to understand is that there is a very real human toll to not addressing these issues,” Borrello said. “We need some sort of breakwater here as a long-term solution. Thank God no one died in the (Silver Village) trailer park in the flood of 2009. Others in nearby (municipalities) weren’t so fortunate. We never want flooding like that to happen again — so we need to address these issues now.”

Westfield Town Supervisor Martha Bills and Silver Creek Mayor Nick Piccolo also spoke, thanking Reed, Borrello and other officials for their efforts in lobbying Washington for Great Lakes funding.

“These are projects that make sense,” Reed summarized. “These are projects that show the benefit not only when it comes to public safety, with flood mitigation, but also with the fishing pursuits, the recreational pursuits, the economic development, the jobs that it represents. That all comes together and I think that’s why we have success. … It’s a win-win-win. It’s a wise investment of taxpayer dollars.”