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Low waters in Wilson Harbor raises concern

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Buffalo: Low waters in Wilson Harbor raises concern
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Officials say the water levels in the Wilson Harbor in Niagara County are the lowest they've been in years due to sediment buildup. As YNN's Antoinette DelBel reports, Senator Charles Schumer is hoping to free up funds to help dredge the harbor.

TOWN OF WILSON, N.Y. — The water stains on the docks in the Wilson Harbor in Niagara County show where the water level should be - normally between six to eight feet deep.

The Town of Wilson Supervisor Joe Jastrzemski says last fall, it was between four to six feet deep, the lowest level in more than five decades.

"Without these people being able to come into our harbor, they're going to go elsewhere, said Jastrzemski "Our restaurants, our bars, our IGA, our stores - that's our industry here."

Each day, sediment settles at the bottom of the harbor, reducing water depth and creating problems for the boating and fishing industry, which Jastrzemski says brings in about $30 million for the county every year.

Jastrzemski says the harbor is home to more than 700 boats and attracts hundreds of tourists each year. He says with the low water levels, boaters take the risk of getting stuck and fewer have been coming.

Captain Mike Johannes charters boats to fishermen who are mostly out of the area. He says aside from his regular customers, the low water levels could make him lose out on new customers.

"Most of my business is from out of town, so if they hear that, they start worrying about coming here," said Johannes, On-The-Rocks Fishing Charters owner.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer introduced legislation earlier this month that would ensure money from the fee imposed on shippers goes toward maintaining the nation's harbors, including dredging.

Schumer says nearly $7 billion is already in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund waiting to be used, and the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013 would free up those federal dollars.

"These harbors are not only good for the boats that come in, but they're restaurants, a lot of them are recreational, Wilson is one of those, and all that will go down the drain if the harbor silts up," he said.

"Right now, the Wilson Harbor is in a very sad state,” said Jastrzemski. “It hasn't been dredged properly since early 1996, 1997."

The town supervisor says dredging the Wilson Harbor would cost about $1.5 million a year.

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