Newspaper coverage of August 31 meeting

The September 2nd issue of the Bradford Journal Opinion contained the following article:

Lake Fairlee moves closer to chem treatment

by Alex Nuti-de Biasi
THETFORD–Just over a month after advocates with a Lake Fairlee advocacy group said they were considering a chemical treatment to combat a Eurasian milfoil infestation, board members of the Lake Fairlee Association told a public gathering on Monday night that they are now moving forward with plans to seek a permit from the state to apply a herbicide next summer. The move represents a shift from the prior practice of removing the invasive weed by mechanical and manual means.

It is estimated that about 10% to 20% of the 457-acre lake is impacted by milfoil, which was first discovered in the lake in 1995. Since then a battery of methods, including hand pulling by divers, bottom barriers and suction harvesters, have been used in an attempt to contain the weed.

But despite those efforts, LFA board members say they are no longer able to keep the milfoil under control. Milfoil can grow to form dense mats near the surface of the water that makes swimming, boating and other recreational activities near impossible in infested areas. Additionally, it can crowd out and kill off native aquatic plants.

The limited effectiveness of non-chemical treatments have forced lakeside property owners to consider alternative methods despite some objections from those.

“Each of us are admittedly anti-chemical in that it is not our first step,” Skip Brown told attendees at the informational meeting at Ohana Camp on Aug. 31. Brown is the LFA’s milfoil program director. He said board members have had “heated discussions” about resorting to herbicidal treatment in an effort to control milfoil, but have been assured by state regulators that certain herbicides are safe for both humans and wildlife.

Ann Bove, a biologist with ANR’s water quality division, said that Vermont is very strict in the permitting process and collaborates with the Department of Health to prevent risks to sensitive populations such as children and women of a child-bearing age. At a meeting last month she said risks to humans are minimal when the chemical is applied consistent with directions and she added that triclopyr, the chemical used in Lake Morey to combat milfoil, breaks down very quickly.

Still, some members of the audience cautioned about the use of chemicals. Ann O’Hearn, who runs an annual swim program at Thetford’s Treasure Island said she was worried about what impact the chemical might have on the 150 children who participate in the program.

According to Susan Brittin with ANR’s water quality division, past state permits have generally restricted use of the waterbody or use of water from the lake for the day of application and the day after application.

And others reminded LFA board members that governments had previously certified since-banned chemicals such as Agent Orange and DDT as safe.

But other factors have contributed to the board’s decision to pursue a state permit to apply a chemical treatment. Brown said the LFA’s milfoil control budget has steadily declined over the last few years. It’s gone from approximately $105,000 per year to under $100,000 in the last couple of years. This is partially a result of a decline in state financing, which had shouldered about 40% of the costs.

It is also a result of a decline in the number of private donors which support about half of the group’s annual expenses. And those donors, Brown says, have dropped or withheld their support unless the LFA changes its course in milfoil containment. Furthermore, others who have never supported the group’s milfoil program have promised to support it if they include herbicides in future treatments.

In addition to financing, the LFA has also been spurred on by the short-term success of using herbicides to contain Eurasian milfoil in nearby Lake Morey. After three years of using chemical treatments in portions of the lake, the weed seems to be on the retreat.

“This [summer] is the best the milfoil has been since my involvement began in 1992,” said Don Weaver with the Lake Morey Protective Association on Monday night.

“At least on the question of whether the herbicide triclopyr works, the answer is yes,” Brown said.

But while the success of the herbicide in Lake Morey may be an inspiration for the LFA, several differences remain. For one, the town of Fairlee was the permit applicant on Lake Morey’s treatment. But three towns, rather than just one, border the shores of Lake Fairlee making the LFA, as a single entity, a better prospective applicant.

The Lake Fairlee Association is operating under a different economic environment than Fairlee was in 2007 and they are now taking action to begin treatments next summer. So, the LFA has contracted with Lycott Environmental of Southbridge, MA to conduct a biological survey of the lake. Brown says this is the first step a potential applicant must take before seeking a permit from the state’s Agency of Natural Resources. Following the survey, LFA would collaborate with state regulators and Lycott to develop a five-year management plan which would include chemical treatment strategy of the lake.

If that’s the case, LFA board members are hopeful to file a permit application before the end of the year. According to ANR representatives who were at the meeting on Monday night, state regulators have up to 180 days before making a decision on a permit request. If granted, there is a 30-day appeal period for interested parties to object to an approved permit.

The timing is important, Brown said as there is a narrow window the water is warm enough but fish have not yet spawned when a herbicide can be applied. They have preliminarily targeted an application date of late May or early June in 2010 should the permit be granted.

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[ quoted in its entirety from the Bradford Journal Opinion,
September 2, 2010. used by permission ]

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