BY BILL WOLCOTT
Niagara Gazette — The Town of Wilson boasts of “Treasure Island” in its harbor, but the island is surrounded by a channel controlled by the federal government and water levels that are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years.
Low water endangers the recreation boating and fishing industries which are vital to the town and village on Lake Ontario and the harbor needs to be dredged to allow for boat traffic. However, the money needed may take years to trickle down.
Wilson leaders have gotten some support of big hitters in the federal government, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillabrand.
“They both jumped on board,” Supervisor Joe Jastrzemski said. “For the past seven years, I’ve been trying to get the federal government to dredge our town harbor to no avail ... We needed someone from the senate side. We’ve had someone from the congressional side with Louise Slaughter.”
This week, Schumer echoed and endorsed a town of Wilson resolution, noting that sediment piles up in the harbor while money for its removal sits idle in federal coffers. The senior senator from New York began pushing a plan to free-up dredging dollars to ensure the Wilson Harbor is open for tourism and recreation.
“It’s great because he sits at a high level,” Jastrzemski said. “He’s lobbying on our behalf.” Schumer is pushing the recently introduced Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013 which would ensure that incoming money from the Harbor Maintenance fee is spent on harbor maintenance projects, like dredging the Wilson Harbor, rather than stuck in the account or allocated elsewhere.
The supervisor noted that two years ago Slaughter earmarked $3 million to dredge the Wilson and Oak Orchard harbors but that money got shot down.
Wilson Harbor accommodates more than 700 boats and 500 Canadian visitors every year.
According to officials, the federal government is holding up $6.8 billion which is designated for federal waterways. The Wilson project would cost between $1.5 to $2 million. County Legislator David Godfrey has taken steps to get an $87,000 greenway grant to get money to do the required testing of the silt which has clogged the harbor channel.
The silt, which may or may not be contaminated, is deposited by Eighteenmile Creek. The dirt, sand, branches and leaves get booged down in the harbor, unable to get flushed to the deep water of the deepest Great Lake.
“We want federal money. We want federal government to come in and take care of business. They’re sitting on billions of dollars,” said Jastrzemski.
The harbor has not been properly dredged since the 1990s. The west side of the channel was touched up in 2001 and 18,000 cubic yards were dumped two miles out in the lake, according to Hull. Some of Tuscarora state park is built on stilt recovered from the harbor.
The Army Corps of Engineers did a sounding of water levels in October. Most of the map is in red, showing the depth of the water less than six feet. In some areas along the banks the water is less than a foot deep. Boathouse slips are on dry land.
“Opening main channel only gets the boats into the harbor,” Godfrey said. “They don’t get to the fuel docks, the marinas, our restaurants. They don’t get to the yacht clubs. So if the slips aren’t done, you literally have a channel and no place to go once you come in the harbor. It’s not just our channel. What we’re trying to work here in all this effort is to get our harbors fully functional.”
The fishing industry means $30 million to the county, according to Godfrey.