OLEAN — After almost 40 years, the time might be coming for locals on Cuba Lake to take full title to their properties.
A referendum set for Saturdaywill determine whether or not officials with the Cuba Lake District continue discussions on possibly purchasing the land around the lake from the state Office of General Service, said district Chairman Jay Morris.
“The important thing is to reach out to check the pulse of the people on the lake,” Morris told the Olean Times Herald.
The referendum, as printed on the ballot, asks voters, "Should the Cuba Lake District, through its Commissioners, be authorized to engage with the Office of General Service to frame a proposal (including price determination, payment terms and related attendant issues) which shall be satisfactory to OGS and CLD for the sale directly to cottage owners of the real property they currently lease?"
An Aug. 9 public meeting on the referendum attracted around 60 people, Morris said, with concerns and questions about the process and the future being asked. But despite the interest at the meeting, he added it’s hard to tell which way the vote will go at this point.
The lake was constructed in 1858 as a reservoir to fill the upper portions of the Genesee Valley Canal, which once reached from the Erie Canal in Rochester to the Allegheny River at Olean. Never turning a profit, the canal shut down in the 1870s, replaced by a railroad along the route. At the time, the state took over ownership of the lake, and by 1900 many cottages had sprung up along the shore.
After more than 100 years, however, state officials decided it was time to divest the state of the lake. In 1980, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation chose to end its commitment, leading to the creation of the Cuba Lake District in 1981.
Scott Barrey, the district’s lake manager, said there have been many talks over the years on the possibility of purchasing the property.
“The purpose of the creation of the district was to eventually transfer the titles,” Barrey said. “They actually had a purchase agreement back in the ’90s, but it was held up by the attorney general because of the lawsuit with the Senecas — we’ve been here before.”
If the referendum is approved, the purchase price would have to be negotiated, Morris said.
The negotiations in the 1990s centered on a value around $7 million, while two appraisals by the state in 2015 also offer a clue as to a more up-to-date value.