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OWASCO LAKE

Owasco Lake watershed inspectors will remain under soil and water district

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Owasco Lake 6.JPG

Looking east across Owasco Lake.

SENNETT — The Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District's board of directors has agreed to keep the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, for now. The future administration of the program became muddied this week, as the parties involved in a proposed transfer work out an agreement.

The Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council — a nonprofit organization created by the city of Auburn, town of Owasco and Cayuga County — intended to take on the inspection program by Jan. 1, but the transfer was delayed after the city found inconsistencies with the organization's bylaws. 

Ed Wagner, chair of the management council and town supervisor of Owasco, appeared before the soil and water district's board meeting Wednesday morning to request that soil and water retain the program "until a date to be determined."

"I can foresee this being January 2019," Wagner said. "The reality is, if we go that far, it probably would be a cleaner transition if we waited until the following January, if we go forward at all."

Wagner said there are multiple options for the future of the inspection program now being discussed, including keeping it under the district, moving it under the purview of the management council, and having the city take responsibility of the program.

The district has overseen the program for the last seven years in lieu of the management council, through a four-party agreement with Auburn, Owasco and Cayuga County. The district's board said it would let the contract automatically renew at its meeting Wednesday, but not without some members expressing frustration at the transfer process thus far. 

Jim Young, vice chairman of the district's board, said he had expected detailed information on how a transfer was going to take place, but was frustrated to learn the management council did not even have a contract to discuss. Young said he wasn't sure why the change in oversight was happening in the first place. 

The district's executive director Doug Kierst said that under the four-party agreement, the district can withdraw from the contract provided it gives Auburn, Owasco and Cayuga County 60 days written notice. If any of the three municipalities wish to leave the agreement, they are required to give six months notice, Kierst said. 

A working group meeting has been scheduled for January, where the four parties will discuss how to move forward. Kierst said he's glad the district has been invited to that session. 

"One of our concerns here was it's taking long to get to this point, and we were kind of not sure what was going on," he said. "At least if we're participating in the process all along, the good news is we'll have a feel for when this may happen and be able to provide some input, so that's good."

Wagner said if and when a decision on the program's future is made, there will be six months notice as stipulated in the current agreement. 

Following the meeting, Wagner told The Citizen that the management council will be working to fix some of the bylaw inconsistencies. Whether or not the management council officially takes the inspection program over, he added that he did not believe the council would ever dissolve. 

"Everybody wants to do the right thing," he said. "Whatever decision we make, we want this to not be influenced by any political yo-yo going up and down, whoever is in charge. We want it to be stable, neutral, and outlast the winds of change."

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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