At the second and final Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Open Forum, the health of Chautauqua Lake — and the Institution’s role in its restoration — raised questions from the community.
In July of 2018, the Institution sued the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the neighboring town of Ellery, over the permittance of herbicides founded on what the Institution called an unscientifically sound Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The lawsuit was dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court in December.
“You don’t bring a lawsuit against the state in which you reside without great reflection — it’s not a good idea to gratuitously offend your regulator,” said Board Chair Jim Pardo, who led the forum last Saturday morning in the Hall of Philosophy. “So we struggled with the idea of what to do when a series of activities were being undertaken on the lake by other municipalities that we thought were inconsistent with the best practices, existing science, common sense, and were outdated.”
Since the suit, the Institution has started working with 21 of the 22 municipalities around the lake on cooperative, collaborative efforts to address the lake’s declining health. Synthesizing a science-based approach to the lake’s health was also identified as one of the 150 Forward strategic plan’s key objectives.
“We’ve invested more as an entity and as a steward in our part of the lake than any municipality has around the lake,” said Institution President Michael E. Hill.
Ellery — on the lake’s east side — was the only municipality stakeholder to not sign the Memorandum of Agreement in May, spearheaded by Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello, which established a Weed Management Consensus Strategy for Chautauqua Lake, Hill said. However, the Institution is working to help mediate the situation and work toward a community coalition.
“I’m hopeful that if we can get a pathway to an agreed-upon set of science, a lot of the rest of these hurt feelings go away because what we’ve been arguing about is not whether any of us care to do the right thing in the lake — I think all believe that everyone really wants to do what’s best for the lake,” Hill said.
Additionally, Pardo addressed concerns about the absorption of the Chautauqua Foundation’s development office into the Institution.
“This is not the first step toward the merger of the Institution and the Foundation — they shall forever remain separate entities,” Pardo said. “The Foundation will hold the endowment, they will manage the endowment and they will appropriate payout from that endowment to the Institution annually. The difference is simply the money will be raised … by the development office inside the Institution and will be paid by the Institution.”
At the annual corporation meeting prior to the forum, James M. Klingensmith was re-elected for a second Class B trustee term, nominated by the Chautauqua Property Owners Association, and Sebby Baggiano, executive vice president and chief financial officer, delivered the annual audit and budget reports.
“It has been a strong season for us,” Hill said.