LYONS — A bar that protects the sometimes-angry waters of Lake Ontario from rolling into Port Bay in Wayne County continues to erode.
Where cottages once stood as late as the 1960s is now a narrow band of land that has been battered over the years by fierce waves and high winds.
Losing the East Barrier Bar would be devastating to the water quality and ecosystems of the bay, Lindsey Gerstenslager, manager of the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District, told the Wayne County Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee Tuesday.
“The barrier is getting smaller and smaller,” she said.
Gerstenslager said the “integrity of the bay is very important” and that “water quality is a huge component.”
There is a small channel with a small breakwall that gives boats access to and from Port Bay, an area with mostly seasonal cottages and homes. However, the East Barrier Bar serves to keep lake waters — and the sediments it carries with it — from making it into the bay.
The barrier has eroded so much that it was breached last April, said Gerstenslager, resulting in as much as a 11⁄2 feet of sediment moving into some parts of the bay.
In a PowerPoint presentation to supervisors, she noted the significant difference in water quality between the lake — relatively brown from sediment stirred up in wave action — to the relatively clear bay waters.
And while water quality and depth are issues that affect residents of Port Bay — in the towns of both Wolcott and Huron — and their ability to boat and fish, the embayment is also important for aquatic species protection, she said. She said smolt (which are defined as young salmon or trout) have been found in the bay, apparently a surprise to environmental officials.
With all that in mind, the Soil and Conservation District, working with state and federal agencies and the Port Bay Association — a group of home and cottage owners in the area — has begun a short-term project to repair and strengthen the Barrier Bar.
In November, workers used stone from channel dredging, along with woody materials, to rebuild the barrier.
“We re-graded the shoreline, giving it a little more slope,” she said. “It’s still staying level pretty much all the way around.”
The barrier is now at a level that would be a foot above high water for Lake Ontario, which would be 247.3 feet above sea level, said Gerstenslager.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve LeRoy, who was on hand for the presentation, wondered how Plan 2014 would affect the barrier. Plan 2014, which recently got approval from the U.S. and Canadian governments, allows water levels on Lake Ontario to rise and fall more naturally. LeRoy has called the plan “devastating” for south shore communities in that it would result in the loss of shoreline due to flooding during high-water periods and boating issues during low-water times.
Gerstenslager said she was told by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which actually owns the barrier, that erosion-protection plans for the barrier can only address current conditions.
However, she said long-term planning is underway, thanks in part to $25,000 from Sea Grant, funded by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.