FINDLEY LAKE, N.Y. - Watch out weeds, there's a new sheriff in town.
The Findley Lake Watershed Foundation recently purchased an aquatic weed harvester — also referred to as a water mower or weed cutting boat — that cuts and collects underwater weeds and vegetation to maintain the lake for boaters, kayakers, skiers, anglers and more.
"It's kind of like mowing your lawn," said Philip Persons, treasurer of Findley Lake Watershed Foundation. "It gets the weeds and cuts them down. It's really one of the greatest ways we have to maintain the lake water quality and keep it clean and safe for all of us to enjoy."
An aquatic weed harvester is an effective way to maintain vegetation in the lake so it doesn't get in the propellers of boats.
The massive piece of equipment was delivered to Findley Lake, New York, on Wednesday morning. Once it arrived, a crew used a large crane to mount paddle wheels onto the harvester and then hoist it into the lake. The foundation immediately began putting it to good use.
"We're going to be using it today," Persons said Wednesday. "This new unit is going to increase our efficiency. It's about a foot wider and goes about a foot deeper than what our existing unit does."
The new weed harvester will replace the foundation's previous harvester that's 14 years old. It was recently sold to the city of Dunkirk.
The foundation purchased the new machine from Inland Lake Harvesters in Wisconsin and the unit is called the ILH 800.
In addition to the harvester, the Findley Lake Watershed Foundation bought a shore conveyer and conveyer trailer.
"It can store the weeds up to so much tonnage and then they need to get it dumped using a shore conveyer," Persons explained. "When the harvester gets full, he pulls up to the shore conveyer, dumps into there, that takes it up a conveyer and dumps it in a truck."
Just like the old weed harvester, the new piece of equipment will be used by Lead Operator Paul Fellinger and his crew.
"We have a lead operator who's been with us for years and he's wonderful," Persons said.
The Findley Lake Watershed Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, received numerous grants to assist with the purchase of the machine.
The foundation was given a USDA Rural Development grant for $50,000 and New York state Sen. Catharine Young piloted a $50,000 DASNY grant. The town of Mina gave the foundation a grant for $20,000, Chautauqua Community Foundation provided a grant for $8,500 and the Erie Community Foundation gave a grant for $12,000.
"We have membership dues that help pay for the cost of the labor to run it, the fuel and all the parts, but we knew going into this that wasn't going to be enough to purchase this," Persons said.
The grants total about $140,500 and the foundation took out a bridge loan to finance the remaining balance.
Findley Lake Watershed Foundation had a problem with the lake's dam about five years ago and it took about three to four years to finish repairs.
"As soon as that was done, the board members all looked at each other in the eye and said 'what haven't we really addressed in the last four years while we were working on the dam' and the aging equipment is what came to light," Persons said.
Persons had done grant work while they were working on the dam and made some contacts so he reached out to them to inquire about grant money.
"Phil led the project on behalf of the watershed foundation," said Ed Mulkearn, president of Findley Lake Watershed Foundation. "It's going to double our capacity for weed harvesting."
Mulkearn also praised Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello as well as local county legislator Marty Proctor for helping with the project and securing funding.
"He's been a friend to the watershed foundation all the time he's been on the legislature," he said. "George provided additional funding when we needed it for the harvester."
Mulkearn has been president of the foundation for 16 years and a member of the eight-person board for 21 years. He said the latest harvester will help the foundation further its mission.
"Our motto is we're the stewards of the lake," Mulkearn said. "Our mission statement is to protect and enhance the lake and the watershed through education and technology."
Findley Lake is about 360 acres and a little over 5 miles in circumference, according to Persons.
For more information about the foundation, visit its website www.findleylakewf.org.
The Foundation also hopes to launch its new website by Memorial Day.