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Schumer says bipartisan support for Great Lakes bill that would help fishery

Photos by Tom Rivers: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer was in Kendall this afternoon to discuss the Great Lakes Aquatic Connectivity and Infrastructure Program Act, which would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts, and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across Lake Ontario and its tributaries. Schumer is shown with, from left: Mike Waterhouse, sportsfishing promotion coordinator for Orleans County; Mike Elam, a leader of the Orleans County Sportsmen Federation; Dennis Kirby, manager of the Orleans County Soil & Water Conservation District; and John DeFilipps, chairman of the Orleans County Legislature.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 October 2017 at 3:55 pm

KENDALL – U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said he has enjoyed fishing since he was a kid. But the activity provides more than mere fun. Schumer said it is big business for many communities, including Orleans County.

However, aging infrastructure, including many culverts that should help move water under roads, often are clogged. That condition can prevent fish from moving upstream, especially during the critical spawning runs. If fish spawn in sub-optimal conditions, the eggs are less likely to survive, Schumer said, quoting The Nature Conservancy.

Schumer was in Kendall today at the Bald Eagle Marina to announce there is bipartisan support for the Great Lakes Aquatic Connectivity and Infrastructure Program Act. The bill supports infrastructure updates that will improve Great Lakes fisheries and restore habitats. The bill would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across the Great Lakes Basin. Additionally, the bill creates a grant program that would fund infrastructure projects to help improve fisheries.

“Sportsfishing is the #1 tourism industry in Orleans County,” Schumer said. “Each year droves of tourists – many from other states – pump over $12 million into the economy, supporting local employers like marinas, bait shops, charter boat operators, restaurants, and inns. But it is all dependent on us protecting and maintaining fish populations in Lake Ontario.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer shakes hands with Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sports fishing promotion coordinator.

Schumer cited an example of one unfunded project long sought by the local Orleans County sportsfishing community to reconfigure the overflow channel at the Waterport Dam. This channel can now trap hundreds of fish as they migrate along on the Oak Orchard River. When the river water level rises, fish can enter the overflow channel only to then become trapped and stranded as the water level drops.

In 2006 an estimated 300 Chinook salmon were trapped and died in the channel in 2006, reducing the number of Chinook available to anglers and causing aesthetic issues resulting from the dead fish, Schumer said.

“Protecting and improving Lake Ontario’s fisheries, especially through funding for infrastructure updates, is a win-win to not only boost our sport finishing industry but to provide much-needed funding to fix faulty and dilapidated infrastructure,” Schumer said.

He supports the bill introduced by Senators Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters, Tammy Duckworth, and Sherrod Brown, who represent Great Lake states.

Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sports fishing promotion coordinator, said fishing is the county’s top tourism draw. The big fish was recently restored by the Medina FFA and has been displayed at parades and community events this year. That fish is 13 feet long.

The bill would provide grants to repair or replace aging dams, culverts and roads that inhibit the movement of fish populations across the Great Lakes Basin. Additionally, the bill creates a grant program that would fund infrastructure projects to help improve fisheries.  Schumer said local governments would apply for the funding.

There are now approximately 400 culverts in Orleans County that must be maintained, often at an expensive cost to local taxpayers. For example, the County recently replaced four aging culverts that carry waters of Oak Orchard Creek River at a cost of over $1.2 million which was funded from an $8 million county bond issue in 2014. Schumer noted this legislation could help provide funds to offset the cost of replacing these culverts while improving fish habitats and spawning areas.

Mike Waterhouse, the county’s sportsfishing promotion coordinator, said fishing is the top tourism draw in the county, generating about $12 million in direct visitor spending.

“Orleans County’s economy is dependent on protecting our world-class fishery and that requires investments to repair infrastructure, combat invasive species, and improve fishing habitats,” Waterhouse said. “For example, we have long sought to construct a raceway to prevent fish that get stranded and die in the overflow channel at the Waterport Dam as they migrate along on the Oak Orchard River. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s push for this new funding program to help grow Great Lakes sportsfishing which is our top tourism industry.”

The county has about 30 charter boat operators, several marinas, bait shops and dozens of fishing derbies and tournaments that attract out-of-state tourists.

Two charter boat captains, Jerry Felluca (left at podium) and Lucas Falkner, spoke at the press event today at the Bald Eagle Marina.

Two of the charter boat captains were at Schumer’s announcement at the Bald Eagle Marina in Kendall.

Jerry Felluca of Rebel Fishing Charters and Lucas Falkner of Make the Turn Charters both said they have many repeat customers who travel for the chance to catch trophy size salmon and trout.

“We’ve been able to catch fish for the children that are the same size as the children,” Falkner said.

The charter captains also said a pressing concern is the deteriorating condition of the Lake Ontario State parkway in recent years. A section has been paved east of Kendall in Orleans County this year, and more will be paved next year from Hamlin to Route 237 in Kendall, Kendall Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata said.

Schumer said a federal infrastructure bill could take care of neglected roads and bridges. He said the Parkway is an asset.

“It’s one of the most beautiful drives in the country,” he said.

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