Gathering support for our Plan

The Political Background

The Lake Fairlee Association has decided to apply an herbicide to the lake late this spring to drastically reduce the extent of milfoil growth in our lake.  We have made this decision after consultation with the best experts we could find, after three well attended public hearings, after lots of publicity, and after considerable debate among our members.  We have tried to involve as many interested parties as possible in the discussion.  Nonetheless, the decision to hire the lake management experts and to apply for the permit was made by a relatively small group of people.

We have made this decision reluctantly, because each of us loves the lake, and none would choose this chemical intervention as a preferred course of action.  We believe that it is necessary, that the health of the lake is threatened, and that we have exhausted other means.  We have acted because action is required by circumstance, and because there is no one else who might step in to save our lake.

The lake is owned by the State of Vermont.  It is bordered by  the towns of Fairlee, Thetford, and West Fairlee.  Members of the Selectboards of each of the three towns have inquired by what authority we have made this decision.  Each has raised  the question whether such action ought not require a public vote.  Yet none of the Selectboards was willing to undertake the project itself.  Fortunately we have an active and generous Association membership which has taken responsibility for the removal and control of the invasive nuisance, Eurasian milfoil.  Over the past decade the Lake Fairlee Association has spent more than $700,000 controlling the milfoil.  Funds for this program have been obtained through grants from the State of Vermont, appropriations from the three towns, and private donations.

Whose lake is it, anyway?

The State of Vermont regulates the use of any chemicals in its waterbodies very strictly.  In their wisdom they allow either municipalities or organizations such as our lake association to manage such uses.  Most lakes are completely within the boundaries of a single town, and that town becomes the natural project manager and permit applicant.  The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation advised us that in Lake Fairlee’s case an herbicide permit might be granted to any one of the towns or to the lake association.

So for the time being we are stuck with the present arrangement.  In an ideal world the three towns might someday form a joint Commission to manage the lake, which would be a politically ordained governing body, subject to a popular vote.  For now the lake needs attention, desperately, and the Lake Fairlee Association has stepped forward to do its best.

The Association depends in part on grants from each of the three towns to do what it does to manage the milfoil.  We are grateful for their support.  Each winter at town meeting voters have an opportunity to decide whether their town will continue to fund our program.  This is one way in which all of the voters in the three towns will have a say.

Lake Fairlee is a public good.  It does not belong to just the three surrounding towns.  The lake is used and enjoyed by many who are residents of other towns, or who are only seasonal visitors.  Some of these people are long time Association members.  Each year Lake Fairlee is used by hundreds of children at the four summer camps around the lake.  These summer camps also have long supported our milfoil program.  Families and children from near and far use the Treasure Island public beach.  Fisherman come to the lake from the surrounding region summer and winter.  The Lake Fairlee Association is acting for the lake and on behalf of all of these groups.

Our Request for Endorsements

In preparation for the coming Town Meetings, and as a partial answer to those who may be concerned that such an important decision be made by a small group without political accountability, we are asking friends, residents, and lake users to lend their names in support of the following proposition.

We support the Lake Fairlee Association’s proposed milfoil treatment

Eurasian Milfoil is a non-native, aggressively invasive plant species which has now spread to more than 25% of the waters near the shore of Lake Fairlee.  It rapidly crowds out native plants, reduces biodiversity, and diminishes fish habitats. It threatens to render shoreline areas of the lake unusable for swimming and boating. It has exceeded our ability to control it by conventional means.

There is an herbicide, triclopyr, that has been used safely and effectively in other lakes with similar problems, including neighboring Lake Morey.  The State of Vermont has determined that there is negligible risk to public health if the treatment is done correctly.  Although it is man-made chemical, triclopyr acts as a focused metabolic inhibitor and has not been shown to alter the ecology of complex biologic systems such as our lake.  The Lake Fairlee Association has made application to the State Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to treat our lake with triclopyr next June.

We believe that this is a necessary and prudent step.  Although as a rule we oppose putting foreign substances in the lake, this intervention is reasonable and is warranted by the circumstances.  Therefore we support and endorse the decision to use this treatment.  At the same time, we urge that other means continue to be explored, and that traditional methods be used wherever appropriate, with the goal of minimizing the amount of herbicide used.

If you support this decision, please email your name and zipcode to skip@lakefairlee.org.

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