Niagara, Orleans and two other Lake Ontario counties have decided to take charge of dredging of small-boat harbors along the lakeshore.
The task is now in private or municipal hands, but the counties think they can do it more efficiently.
The regional plan calls for retaining a contractor to make sure the harbors are deep enough to handle the fishing and pleasure craft that use them.
Orleans County Legislator Lynne M. Johnson, R-Yates, said she believes the high waters in the lake, which produced flooding and erosion last year, have increased the need for dredging.
But the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't agree.
High water "makes it easier for the boaters," said Mike Asquith, the dredging program manager for the Corps' Buffalo district.
Once waters return to typical depths, the counties hope the interior harbors can be dredged to make them safer.
"I'm sure they're full of silt, which is the situation they were in before the flooding," Johnson said.
That can create trouble for boaters.
"You can come in the channel, but you can't get to the fuel, you can't get to the restaurants," said Niagara County Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson.
Federal law doesn't allow the Corps to dredge within harbors, said Andrew A. Kornacki, the Corps' local spokesman. But even with the regional plan, the Corps will retain its exclusive authority to dredge the channels.
This summer, the Corps plans to spend about $182,500 dredging the entrance to Wilson Harbor for the second time in four years.
Godfrey said the counties intend to take over any dredging permits in the hands of marinas, yacht clubs or other private groups.
"The counties would be responsible for compliance with regulations," said Diane Kozlowski, the Corps' Buffalo regulatory chief.
She said a regional dredging program by county governments would be something new, but the Corps wouldn't object.
The regional contractor could have steady work, dredging each harbor every few years.
"By doing a request for proposals, we can guarantee four, five or six counties of continuous business," Godfrey said.
Wayne and Cayuga counties have joined Niagara and Orleans in the Lake Ontario Regional Dredging Management Council. Godfrey said they hope to recruit Monroe and Oswego counties.
The participating counties contributed $5,000 each to hire Wendel, the Amherst engineering firm, to prepare to seek bids from dredgers.
But first, the four committed counties are seeking $125,000 in state funding for legal work and engineering analysis of their 13 harbors, including cost estimates and a work schedule.
Godfrey estimated that Niagara County would have to commit $40,000 a year to dredging.
"It's a step in the right direction," Johnson said. "It shows our taxpayers we're committed to marinas and tourism."