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Will bureaucratic holdup keep Lake Erie waves splashing on Route 5?

This time the holdup is not a question of money.

Plans for a new seawall and buffer to prevent Lake Erie waves from crashing across Route 5 in Athol Springs are finished, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ready to start construction. And, the federal government will provide 100 percent of the funding for the estimated $6 million project.

But the corps is waiting for New York State to OK the new agreement.

"The hope was that we could start this year," said Ronald Kozlowski, chief of programs and project management for the Buffalo District of the Corps of Engineers. "If we were to get that agreement back very soon, I still think we could go toward a construction start this year."

The federal government was going to pay 65 percent of the cost with New York State paying 35 percent. The two governments had an agreement ready to go, once the federal government came up with its share. Then word came last fall that instead of 65 percent, the federal government included 100 percent of the funding in emergency supplemental funding.

"The only thing we had to do was work with New York State on getting a revised project partnership agreement," Kozlowski said.

There has been discussion between the two governments about wording.

"Our legal team believes we met what we needed to with the language," Kozlowski said.

State Sen. Chris Jacobs is trying to resolve the problem.

"I'm really getting concerned that this delay may cause us to lose all this federal money and this project doesn’t happen," Jacobs said. "I feel like if there is a legitimate concern with the agreement, let's work to resolve it."

He sent letters to the Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Transportation. Jacobs said he understands the agreement has not been finalized because of discrepancies over proposed language, and that the language was similar to what was in the previous agreement. He said the state has not replied to his April 12 letter.

"Here we are with an opportunity now for the federal government to pick up the entire cost," Jacobs said, "but for some reason the DOT has gone completely silent."

A spokesman for the DOT did not seem worried about losing the project.

“The New York State Department of Transportation continues to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and is confident that the project will proceed without any impact to federal support," Glenn Blain, assistant director of communications, said in an email.

The wall is to include a revetment – a pile of large boulders – placed in front of it extending into the lake to absorb the energy from the waves during storms. There will also be a 15-foot splash apron and a concrete shoreline walkway for pedestrians built into the project.

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