Como Lake was once a pretty man-made lake in the third-largest Erie County park.
But over the years, so much silt has accumulated in the lake that it’s created an island, and the picturesque picnic spot is turning into an eyesore, according to some Lancaster officials and residents, who are calling on the county to dredge Como Lake.
This summer, a draught has left the lake’s water levels even lower than usual, but Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz says the county won’t be dredging the lake because the estimated $2 million cost is far too expensive.
“That $2 million, alone, represents about 70 percent of the county parks capital budget on an annual basis. This is not a small project,” Poloncarz said Thursday in an interview. “We have other projects, too, that are large, extensive ones. We cannot just spend money for what is, in some ways, an issue associated with the look of the lake. It’s more of an aesthetic issue than it is anything else.”
He said no decision has been made about how to tackle the lake sediment, although an option might be to replace valves on the lake’s dam, which may help clear sediment that has formed the unsightly island in the midst of the lake, he said.
Water sports like kayaking, canoeing and swimming - activities that some locals want offered at the lake - will remain prohibited because of liability and safety concerns regardless of any work done at the lake and its dam, Poloncarz said.
The county executive last week wrote a detailed letter to Lancaster town and village leaders about the condition of the county-owned lake, which was the focus of a resident petition last month. He addressed in the letter a debate that was ignited when County Legislator Ted Morton, R-Cheektowaga, told village officials in June that the county might consider removing the dam altogether so the lake could instead transform into a creek. Poloncarz insisted that is not the case at all.
Some residents complain the lake, which they say is full of muck, has long been neglected by the county and desperately needs to be dredged.
Cayuga Creek flows into the lake, which sits in the heart of the village off Lake Avenue, and once was a favorite swimming hole and used for ice skating at one time. But those days are long gone. No water sports have been there since at least the 1970s, some say.
With this summer’s drought and low water levels, the island of silt and debris has become more pronounced. It sits near the lake’s real island that is accessible by a footbridge and still has the remnants of boathouse that burned decades ago.
“With there being no rain, Cayuga Creek is at some of its lowest levels ever, so the area looks worse,” Poloncarz said.
Lancaster Village Trustee Dawn Robinson and Town Councilwoman Dawn Gaczewski both say they prefer the lake be dredged soon, even if it means the village, town and county join forces to do the work.
“We would at least like to get the lake dredged. The work that needs to get done by the dam could probably wait,” said Gaczewski, who grew up near the lake and whose parents used to swim there in the 1950s. “The ‘eyesore’ is the first thing everybody says” about it.
“Now is the perfect opportunity to dredge it when the water levels are so low and it would make it more cost-effective,” Robinson said. “I’d like to see it left as a lake.”
The county normally doesn’t dredge lakes. If Como Lake were dredged, it would cost between $1.6 million and $2 million, Poloncarz said. The water supply would have to be completely shut down from the creek before dredging occurred and then sedimentation would have to be removed and taken off-site, adding more expense, he said. Repairing the dam’s gate valves would cost about $150,000, he said.
Poloncarz defended his administration’s dedication and investment in county parks, noting that since 2012, approximately $630,000 in capital improvements have been made at Como Lake Park, including $200,000 worth in the past 18 months.