Rochester, N.Y. - If you use the thruway between Rochester and Syracuse, you might have noticed the work being done on the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. Crews are in the process of moving hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of earth. Several viewers asked 13WHAM to check into what the project is all about, how much it's costing taxpayers, and when it will be done.
The first thing we noticed upon arrival is that Refuge Manager Tom Jasikoff is not your typical bureaucrat, whatever your idea of a typical bureaucrat is. Jasikoff has an office, but spends most of his time outside it. If he owns suits and ties, he doesn't wear them to work. He has constantly muddy boots and an SUV that looks like it carries a permanent cake of dirt.
"I don't have a large staff," he says with a shrug. "If there's work to do, why can't the manager do it? We have to be efficient around here."
Jasikoff has nine permanent employees to take care of 10,000 acres. It was his idea to launch the marsh project that can currently be seen from the thruway. Jasikoff says the wetlands are eroding -- drying up, really, thanks to an unfortunate development sixty years ago.
When the thruway was built, it was constructed directly through the heart of the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. The result is a faster process of drying and loss of water.
What used to be half water and half cattails is now becoming dominated by the cattails.
"That's a problem for the birds," Jasikoff explains. "They need the cattail for various reasons, but they also need water so they can eat. We need a balance, and it's going the wrong way."
Jasikoff estimates that more than 300 species of migratory birds stop at the Refuge every year, totaling more than a million birds. The birds stop for several weeks in the spring on their way north to Canada, and for several months in the fall on their way south, some to the southern hemisphere.
"If you drive your family to Florida, you don't drive straight through," Jasikoff says. "You stop, see the sights, rest, eat, spend time. These birds are drawn to this site. It's a very special piece of land. How many pieces of land do you know like this one? There aren't any."