EVANS, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — An ice-free Lake Erie this past February had hopes riding high for an early spring fishing season - one that was promising to bring in many sport fisherman from outside New York State.
Even though an October 2019 windstorm had clogged the Sturgeon Point Marina with a huge amount of sand, Evans Supervisor Mary Hosler was optimistic that FEMA would help reimburse the town for dredging and fixing other storm-related damage. The important safe-harbor was tentatively set to reopen on May 15th. (Sturgeon Point is the only safe harbor between Buffalo and Dunkirk.)
Covid-19 changed that.
Now it is unknown whether Sturgeon Point Marina will be able to open at all this season.
"Everything we thought was going right is going wrong," said Jim Hanley, owner of Jim Hanley's Fishing Charters in Evans.Hanley said the area has lost hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars from lost fishing charter business. Fishing charters are considered non-essential businesses under the NY on Pause Executive Order, something Hanley hopes will be reconsidered soon.
Supervisor Hosler said before the Sturgeon Point Marina repairs can begin, FEMA needs to make an on-site inspection so the town can be reimbursed for expenses. That has not happened and may not happen for some time. FEMA is busy dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and tornadoes that hit the Southern part of the United States.
Hosler said if the town goes ahead with the work without the FEMA inspection first, Evans could lose out on financial reimbursement. The full cost of repairs would then fall on the backs of taxpayers and possibly force a tax increase. The cost to dredge out the sediment is estimated to be $90,000. Evans only budgeted $50,000 for the annual dredging and would have to pay an additional $40,000 to deal with the windstorm-pushed sand/sediment pile in the harbor.
The supervisor said she can't allow that to happen because municipal budgets everywhere are being hit hard by the pandemic. So for now, the work and repairs are on hold.
Mary Hosler is hoping to work out details so a 'virtual inspection" can be done of Sturgeon Point Marina by FEMA instead.
While the town is still hoping to get the harbor open at some point in the season, there are no guarantees, explained Hosler. If the marina cannot open, Hosler said the town will issue full refunds to those you paid for slips.
There are some in the town who don't want to wait. Signs and petitions are asking the town leaders to document the damage to the marina, do the work, and hope for reimbursement later.
Town Councilman Michael Schraft supports the idea, even though it is a financial gamble. "This Marina is near and dear to a lot of people's hearts," said Schraft.
Losing Sturgeon Point Marina for the season would be very dangerous, explained Charter Boat Captain Jim Hanley, because it would leave boaters vulnerable due to lack of a safe harbor within reasonable distance in the case of Lake Erie storms.
Sturgeon Point Marina is considered a regional asset and a $1.2 million NYS grant is pending for repairs to the break-wall, which was also damaged by storms, but it includes a $148,000 match requirement from the town.
Hosler said it is now a matter of 'wait-and-see' if Evans will get federal stimulus money, or other NYS assistance, so the repairs can begin and Sturgeon Point Marina reopened.