Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation Distri

The Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District’s weed-cutting boat is shown on Cayuga Lake.

The district is trying to secure $40,000 to repair the boat.

It may be another weedy summer for lakes around the county.

The Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District's weed-cutting boat, a lawnmower for the lakes, needs $40,000 in repairs before it can float again, SWCD Executive Director Ron Podolak told his board of directors last week.

The eight-year-old boat, the largest such vessel in the Northeast, needs a new set of pumps and valves. It earns about $127,000 a year in governmental contracts for chopping and sucking thousands of pounds of seaweed from local lakes, including Cayuga, Owasco and Otter lakes, Lake Como and Little Sodus Bay.

When the boat broke down this summer, it caused a furor among lakefront property owners whose boats and beaches quickly became overgrown.

That's what the SWCD fears will happen again this summer if the boat isn't repaired.

"It's something we can try to head off at the pass, or we'll all be under siege when the weeds start growing," Podolak said.

There are two hurdles to getting the boat fixed, both of them familiar ones: money and time.

The district doesn't have $40,000 to fix the boat, much less $200,000 - at least - to buy a new one. It will appeal to the county Legislature Public Works Committee, which meets tonight, to get emergency funding.

The county has its own financial pressures, though, and it cut $50,000 from the SWCD budget in December. Several SWCD board members said the current dilemma is a direct consequence of that cut.

They suggested that the district might have to stop cutting weeds altogether. It has already laid off one member of the three-man crew.

"My position is, when the Legislature decided to cut our budget, there were going to be lost services," Jim Young said.

"We took it on the chin and didn't act like crybabies," Podolak added. "We went back home and decided what we have to do. Well, this is it."

Even if money is found for the repairs, some of the parts won't be available for 24 weeks after they're ordered, meaning that the boat wouldn't be ready until mid-August at the earliest, Podolak said.

Podolak requested the board's approval to spend a few thousand dollars on the parts with the most lead time, but the members requested that he first appear at tonight's Public Works Committee meeting.

Paul Pinckney, a legislator who also sits on the SWCD board, said it would be difficult to find money and support for the repairs at the Legislature.

"You'll have a lot of people going crazy about the lake, but at the same time we expected this kind of thing when we cut their budget," he said. "Maybe if they go a year without (the weed-cutting) and there's a big public cry, they'll go back to it."

Increased phosphorus in the lake and a slew of new invasive species have boosted seaweed growth, raising alarm for water quality as well as tourism and economic benefits from the lake.

Staff writer Justin Murphy can be reached at 282-2237 or justin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenMurphy.


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