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Fate of Sturgeon Point Marina, Hamburg boat launch up in the air

Now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will allow marinas and boatyards to open for personal use, with strict social distancing and sanitation protocols due to the new coronavirus, it's welcome news to boaters and anglers as the weather gets warmer and it gets closer to walleye season.

But not in the Southtowns.

Even though marinas are allowed to open this summer, leaders in two towns have other concerns standing in the way of their hopes to open their boat launches and marina this year.

Last fall's Halloween storm and another in February damaged the retaining wall at Sturgeon Point Marina in Evans, sending more sediment into the harbor than usual. Supervisor Mary Hosler budgeted $50,000 for dredging to open up the boat lane at the marina this year, but the lowest bid came in around $90,000.

Hamburg Town Beach also needs major dredging this spring. The first dredging of sand at the beach is estimated to cost $50,000, Supervisor James M. Shaw said. It is expected a second dredging will be required in late summer, costing $10,000 to $15,000.

Hosler and Shaw said they are hopeful that their towns will be able to recoup some of the extra cost of dredging this year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the buildup was due to the windstorm. But there's a catch.

In order to qualify, no work can be done until FEMA staffers complete an on-site inspection. And that has not been able to happen yet because of the shutdown of activities due to Covid-19, Hosler said.

"Because of the breach in the wall, it's totally plugged, we’ve got a huge sandbar," Hosler said. "We barely made it to October last year."

She said she also wants repair the wall, which will prevent additional sediment settling into the marina. That will cost about $2 million, and the town's share of a state grant for the work is $148,000, she said.

Hosler got confirmation from FEMA on Wednesday that if the town dredges or completes other work before the inspection, it jeopardizes the funding.

"Our intention was to open it this year," Hosler said. "Nobody predicted Covid."

Hamburg is in a similar situation, waiting for a FEMA inspection. And since the boat launch is open only to town residents, launch fees bring in about $20,000 a year.

The town is also wondering where to place its Water Rescue Unit boat, which is in a boathouse at the town beach. The location allows the 35-year-old unit, made up of town volunteer firefighters, to rapidly deploy to emergencies on Lake Erie.

The town looked into housing it at Sturgeon Point this year, or at Buffalo Harbor State Park. But the boat does not have a canopy or top, and cannot be stored in the elements, Shaw said.

Hamburg Town Board Member Michael Petrie said at a recent Town Board meeting the town has to decide what to do with the boat launch.

"I understand we’re losing a lot of money on it," he said. "If we didn’t have it, I think people would be pretty upset. I think we should keep it open."

Board Member Shawn Connolly said the launch is a great service to boaters. At the same time, with municipal budgets headed for tough times because of the pandemic, the town will have to make tough decisions, he said.

"It would be great to keep it, I'd like to keep it," he said, but added, "I think we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't look at the financial end of this."

The budget concerns are being felt in Evans, too.

"If Covid wasn't here, it certainly would not be a question on anybody's mind that it would be open this year. I don't want to lose it," Hosler said of Sturgeon Point Marina. "I’m using a lot of caution here, I know economically people will be challenged, the last thing they want to see is their taxes going up."

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