Association lacks support for chemical treatment of weeds

SALISBURY - The Lake Wononscopomuc Association has temporarily shelved its plans to treat the lake with herbicides this spring.

About 50 people attended an informational forum Saturday afternoon in Town Hall and, according to association President Bill Littauer, about two-thirds of the attendees spoke out against the use of chemicals in a small portion of the lake. Littauer said there was broad agreement among attendees and the Board of Selectmen that a more effective approach to controlling the invasive Eurasian milfoil is needed.

"The question is how to do it," Littauer said in an e-mail. "At the moment we don’t have sufficient community support for even a limited use of a fairly benign herbicide."

Association member Mary Silks gave a PowerPoint presentation and used visual aids to illustrate the difference between using the herbicide in high concentrations and the more diluted form that would be used in Lake Wononscopomuc.

But many other attendees expressed concern about dangers posed by even limited use of Reward and Renovate — the two chemicals recommended by the association’s consultant at Aquatic Control Technologies.

As he did at an association meeting in October, Bruce Schearer raised questions about the use of the chemicals. Schearer could not be reached for further comment.

Also weighing in was Jim Morrill, a science teacher at The Hotchkiss School, who questioned whether using herbicides (instead of harvesting) would have any effect on the continued introduction of nutrients such as phosphorus that cause much of the lake’s weed growth.

In 1988, the lake association, with help from Hotchkiss, bought a marine harvester and donated it to the town of Salisbury. Each year since then, the town, Hotchkiss and the association have spent up to $30,000 per year to cut the milfoil during the growing season.

In an e-mail, association member Bob Blank praised Silks’ presentation as "excellent and thorough," but added that "anyone who was not convinced of the effectiveness and safety of the recommended herbicides probably never will be no matter what evidence is presented."

In addition to milfoil, Lake Wononscopomuc harbors some species of aquatic plants listed as rare or endangered that could also be harmed by herbicides. State Department of Environmental Protection regulations typically prohibit the harming of such plants by herbicides unless it issues an incidental taking permit, which can lengthen the permitting process.

Gerry Smith and Marc Bellaud of Aquatic Control Technologies plan to attend a professional conference soon in which they should be able to ascertain "whether we even have a shot at using a herbicide in view of the two listed plant species in our lake," Littauer said.

Then Littauer will pull together some data on alternative means of improving the removal of the dense beds of milfoil. An association board meeting will follow, most likely in February.

In an interview, First Selectman Curtis Rand said the Board of Selectmen would "like to take a harder look at the management of the lake — not only weeds but in other areas such as water quality." The town, he said, would like to help get some answers.

The nonprofit Lake Wononscopomuc Association was formed in 1988 to help the town maintain the lake. The association last floated the idea of chemical treatments in 2001, when an informational meeting on the subject drew an emotional crowd at the Salisbury Congregational Church and prompted association officials to drop the idea.

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