RUSHFORD — Rushford Lake Recreation District (RLRD) commissioners say they have some possible solutions to addressing concerns about public access, while also dealing with the need to protect the lake from invasive species and moving forward with a multi-million dam repair project.
The thing they can’t do, commissioners said at a meeting Saturday morning at the Rushford Town Hall, is put all the costs on the lake district residents, who already pay a lot in taxes. The meeting, which was open to the public, was attended by about 10 people, including William Heaney, a representative of state Sen. Catharine Young’s office.
“We cannot put all this on the taxpayers of Rushford Lake,” said Commissioner Bob Panter. “The sensitivity with the landowners here is that they’re paying everything.”
Rushford Lake currently charges a $40 fee for someone to launch a boat with a motor of over 25 horsepower. The launch fee for a boat with a motor under 25 horsepower is $20. According to the RLRD website, as of June 15, the boat launch gate has been manned seven days a week, through the season, during the following hours: noon to 7 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays; and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays. Before that, as of May 26, the launch gate hours for Thursday through Sunday were the same and the gate was locked Mondays through Wednesdays.
The state had allocated a $25,000 grant for a boat washer, but in an Aug. 28 letter to commissioners, Young wrote that the grant could be withdrawn.
“The continued existence of the locked gates and excessive fee structure that limits public access and conflicts with state law jeopardizes future support for state funding for lake projects. Also, the $25,000 boat washer grant will be withdrawn if the gate is not removed and the fee structure is not reformed to be in line with other Western New York lakes,” Young said in the letter.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Joe Manna said the issue is public access to the lake, not only for fishermen, but for everyone. He said the commissioners have to balance the concerns about public access with issues that affect the lake — protecting the lake against invasive species and the need for a multi-million dollar dam project. The project includes replacing two valves at the base of the dam that are worn out.
One of the solutions commissioners have talked about is increasing boat launch access hours with a drop box option for those who want to stay out on the lake longer.
“We’ve talked about 6 in the morning until 6 at night, with a drop box option. You’d get a key. You put the key in the lock. You take your boat out. You lock it for us. You put the key in a drop box,” Manna said. He said this option would require more discussion before being enacted.
RLRD would also be willing to hand the setting of launch gate hours over to the county if RLRD’s concerns about keeping the lake clean are addressed, he said.
“The money that comes in from the gate is used to pay the stewards (the paid staff who work at RLRD),” Manna said. “If we could come up with some funding (for the paid staff), I don’t see why the fee structure couldn’t be reduced or eliminated altogether.”
Manna said RLRD gets about $260,000 a year back from the taxes its district members pay. District taxpayers reportedly pay $3 to $3.5 million a year. Commissioners said it’s an issue of money.
Mike Elliott, a member of the Board of Commissioners Finance Committee, said these issues have been around since May he doesn’t get the impression that the district is working on a solution. Elliott talked about the need to look out for the fishermen’s intersts and work with Young’s office to get more money for Rushford Lake.
“It’s time that we gather those forces and do something about a solution,” he said.
Manna said, “I think we do have a bunch of ideas, but we don’t have any funding.”
Jim Johnson of Allegany said fishermen are concerned that access and fees will still be an issue next May and that they hope there will be a solution before then.
Manna said he has tried to contact District I legislators to set up a meeting, but that the only legislator who called him back so far has been David Pullen. Manna said he met recently with Legislator Karl Graves of District 4 and that Graves is willing to work with the commission on a solution.
County legislators this afternoon discussed approving a resolution pertaining to Rushford Lake. Under the resolution, the county would call on Rushford Lake to take down its Balcom Beach boat launch gate and set its launch fees so they’re similar to fees charged at state boat launches across New York. The county would also ask Rushford Lake to increase operating hours so the public has “unrestricted access” to the lake and its facilities.