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After one year delay from Hurricane Sandy, St. Lawrence County Fisheries Advisory Board holds public meeting to discuss issues related to NYPA boat launches

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MASSENA - The St. Lawrence County Fisheries Advisory Board shared their concerns Tuesday night about the docks maintained by the New York Power Authority on the St. Lawrence River between Massena and Waddington in a session that drew approximately two dozen. The meeting was led by St. Lawrence County Fisheries Advisory Board member Don Lucas. He was joined by fellow board members Jim Boyce and Bob Giordano as well as Chairman Bob Flavin.

Mr. Lucas shared various issues with the board that many local boaters have faced for years, but he said that the problem related to the early removal of docks each year was the primary concern.

“The floats on the dock are plastic and would be crushed by ice in the winter and need to be removed putting late season users of the launches at risk of boat damage when launching without a dock to tie up to. Now this is the biggest driver behind this meeting here tonight,” he said. “I run a fishing charter business. There’s a couple of others here in town. There’s late season duck hunters and there’s late season fisherman. They were out there today and they’ll be out there this weekend.

“The Power Authority takes the docks out in October, and it’s quite a hindrance for myself to conduct business when I don’t have a stable launch. (Mr. Giordano) is a duck hunter. If he went out there tomorrow in a motorized craft, carrying a gun, heaven forbid that there be an accident with the boat or one of those rifles and shotguns that those people are carrying. The rescue squads are going to experience a hindered response time.”

Mr. Lucas pointed out first responders ran into an emergency on the river that was hampered by the lack of the docks. “A sub-contractor of the Power Authority set out to bring in some docks off Sand Island, and he overturned his boat (in) 50 degree water. It doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in,” he said.

“Massena Dive and Rescue responded and when they came up on the scene, unfortunately in this particularly case there had been some shoreline taken away from the big boulders that are in place along the shoreline. The rescue boat ended up on the rocks with a poked hole. So the rescue boat had to be rescued. ... Mr. (Mark) Smutz from St. Lawrence County Dive and Rescue team was there, and he told me of his concerns of the late season users and their impeded response time. ... Minutes can be the difference between life and death. So that’s why we feel it’s important that we get year-round facilities installed.”

Mr. Lucas noted he traveled to the Patterson boat launch in Ogdensburg, where they employ a permanent retaining wall, something that he urged NYPA to consider installing at its docks.

He also suggested the problem of having to remove the docks every year would be resolved if “V” shaped steel floats were installed under the docks.

“This design can be left in year round because when it freezes, the ice pushes the “V” shaped hulls out of the developing ice and sits on top all winter. In the spring, as the ice melts, the “V” shaped hull returns to the water,” Mr. Lucas said.

Mr. Lucas’s presentation included photographs of the Hawkins Point Boat Launch, Brandy Brook, Wilson Hill and the Massena Intake to illustrate the numerous concerns he raised at the meeting. He also included a petition with 23 signatures calling on NYPA to form an advisory committee. This committee would be a cross section of the users of the launch facilities between Waddington and Massena.

Boaters and fishermen from Massena, Louisville and Waddington were scattered throughout the crowd as well and shared their displeasure with the present setup.

“I just think that you guys put the docks in way too late and take them out way too early. There are still people fishing right now. I went by Saturday, and there were half a dozen boats at the Massena Intake. ... It is a pain in the (butt) to get your boat in and out of the water,” Louisville resident Dan Cecot said.

“I’m also concerned about taking the docks out so early. I’m a fisherman. I fish right up until ice time, and I can’t remember a time when we had ice in the river much earlier than Thanksgiving. So, to get the docks removed in mid-October leaves a great deal of time still to fish and the docks are convenient,” Tom Simpson added.

“Most people with nice boats in the $20,000 to $30,000 categories don’t like to see their boats hit against the dock or against the trailer wrong. So they’ll take extra measures including putting themselves at risk to try to stop that from happening.”

St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pat McKeown said the docks are an issue as local officials market the region as a destination for boaters and sportsmen.

“As a tourism director for the county, I want more people to have access to that river. Frankly, I’d like to see from the locks all the way to Lisbon. where the Power Authority loses control - I’d like to see it open for hiking, for boating, for fishing. I’d like to see ramps that are accessible. I’d like to see docks that are accessible. I’d like to see boats have a safe place to pull in and pull out. I’d like to see accommodations like pavilions. I love that idea,” Ms. McKeown said. “In other words, that whole river stretch, from Massena right to Lisbon ... I’d like to see that wide open to tourism.

“I’d like to see perhaps a community task force to make a legitimate and cohesive request plan for a five-year plan for the Power Authority to open up that river.”

Ms. McKeown also added that the NYPA is negatively effecting tourism due to its restrictions.

“We have a beautiful facility here. It is an envy of everybody. That river is a jewel. But it is very tightly controlled by an agency that has as it’s primary function making power and keeping people out,” she said.

NYPA representatives present at the meeting did not take part in the discussion, but the Power Authority did issue a statement at its conclusion.

“NYPA makes every effort to accommodate seasonal dock use by recreational boaters and fishermen and balance that with our highest concern, which is for their safety and the safety of the workers who install and remove the docks. It should be noted the boat launches are available year-round,” the statement noted.

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