October 21, 2021

‘We’ve beaten milfoil back’

But group proposes taxing district to keep Little York Lake clean

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Alex Eastman, left, fishes at Little York Lake Wednesday afternoon as his friends Emily Brown, center, and Tessabelle Seamans watch. The group has been visiting the lake since they were young to fish and wade in the creek nearby.

Green water saturated with tangled weeds and litter is not ideal for a weekend fishing venture.

A few years ago, homeowners along Little York Lake couldn’t launch their boats, the water was so crowded with invasive species of plants. Now, some of the homeowners are proposing a taxing district for the neighborhood to fund lake maintenance and herbicide treatments.

For the past six years, the Little York Lake Preservation Society had developed lake management plans and used treatment tools to keep the lake clean for residents and visitors alike. Dwyer Memorial Park, Cortland County’s only park, is located on the north end of the lake and a public boat access is in the park.

“The good news is that we’ve beaten milfoil back,” preservation society treasure Don Fisher said Tuesday morning at the Cortland County Legislature’s Agriculture, Planning and Environmental Committee meeting. “Everybody is reporting to us how wonderful the lake is — if you’ve been on the lake recently, you’ll notice it’s really clear.”

Clearing the water of weeds was not an easy or inexpensive task.

“While the preservation society has been working actively since 2014 to meet the challenges to lake usage presented by these invaders, it began aggressive herbicide treatments in 2019,” said members of the preservation society in an article on the Little York Lake website. “Over the past three years it has raised over $40,000 from residents and received $18,000 in support from Soil and Water to provide $58,000 in treatments.”

Kathy McGrath, a water quality specialist with the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, said Little York Lake not only experiences problems with two types of milfoil plants, but also starry stonewort macroalgae, curly-leaf pondweed and zebra mussels.

“The preservation society is working hard to solve those weed problems and I would say they’re all doing it in an enlightened and thoughtful manner,” McGrath said. “They’re doing their homework, getting the best information and seeking out help from agencies. They’re being cautious where chemicals are involved, and they’re ahead of the game in terms of really trying to expand their toolbox to have more treatment options.”

While everyone from fishermen and kayakers to homeowners and park visitors have benefited from the lake maintenance efforts, the funding came primarily from only two-thirds of the neighboring community.

Realizing that it was not sustainable and that short-term gains could be quickly lost as people tired of shouldering the burden for others, the preservation society proposed a taxing district.

“Unfortunately, it’s not all of the lake residents that donate each year,” Fisher said. “That’s where we need to get everybody involved. So we put together a committee and brainstormed ideas — and ultimately their recommendation was to do a tax district. That was the fairest way and most equitable way to share the burden.”

Fisher and his fellow committee members have spent the past month meeting with homeowners one-on-one to discuss the taxing district proposal.

So far, around 60% of the homeowners have shown their support and signed the petition.

Fisher said that no one has been completely opposed to the idea — but a few have requested a more in-depth discussion before they decide.

If the taxing district is approved, it would begin in 2023. The estimated total assessment is $15,000, to be split up among about 115 properties — adding a line to the homeowners’ property taxes for the year.

The exact amount per property will vary depending on their current property tax.

The preservation society has already received support from both the towns of Homer and Preble to form the taxing district. County and state approval are also needed.

“While this district will provide a financial base, it cannot fully meet the ongoing financial needs of a sustainable lake management plan,” the members wrote online. “Continued financial support from the county and citizens who use the lake will also be needed.”

“I think the people in Cortland County appreciate the lake,” Fisher said. “I think our hard work is paying off. We’ve started conversations about the taxing district, and now we need to convince everybody else that they’ve got to put some skin in the game.”

Fisher said he hopes that people who visit the lake, whether it be to fish, swim, kayak or just picnic, consider donating to the preservation society and play a role in the lake’s maintenance.

More information about lake treatment efforts and how to donate can be found online at littleyorklake.com

Invasive snails plague lake in Willet

Melody Lake, a private lake located 2 miles from the town of Willet, has experienced an influx of Chinese Mystery Snails.

Melody Lake Association President Bob Rosati practically grew up on the lake and later purchased property of his own, moving there permanently in the 1980s. In the past few years, he’s been overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds, if not thousands, of snail shells littering the shoreline.

“Everyone has to wear their shoes when they walk along the sand,” he said.

According to the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Chinese Mystery Snail were likely introduced to New York waters in the 1940s, directly from aquariums into the Niagara River.

“This is an example of why you should never release exotic pets, including plants, into local waterways,” wrote Hanna Whalen in a June 2020 blog on the Soil and Water Conservation District website. “This snail is invasive, outcompeting local snails and disrupting aquatic food chains. These invertebrates also carry parasites that are a threat to fish and waterfowl.”

Chemical control is not an option, McGrath said, so removal and prevention are the only things residents can do.

“Clean, drain and dry,” she said. “That’s the phrase that people use. ‘Clean, drain and dry’ their equipment before moving between one lake and another. It’s really the residents that live there that need to be aware of their equipment. Boats from another lake could spread aquatic invasives.”

The Melody Lake Association has contacted the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in hopes of getting the agency interested in solving the snail problem.

“We have not been very successful,” Rosati said. “They admit there is not a lot of information available, but the problem is getting more and more frequent throughout the state and the nation.”

For every female snail, there will be 200 snails born in late summer.

In an attempt to prevent further spread of the Chinese Mystery Snail, the association plans to meet on July 17 with pails in gloved hands prepared to physically remove the snails from the lake.

“After a few minutes of working together, we will split up to spend a couple hours removing snails from our shoreline and other right of ways,” Rosati said. “We might even award certificates to all attendees, and maybe even prizes for the most collected.”

Acknowledging that one day-long event won’t entirely solve their problem, the association hopes that it will spark some interest in the DEC and gain its support in controlling the invasive species.