Commission seeks to change minds on aquatic herbicide

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Lake George Park Commission Executive Director David Wick, right, makes a case for the use of the herbicide ProcellaCOR to control the invasive Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake George during the Feb. 12 meeting of the Dresden Town Board as commission Chairman Ken Parker listens. Photo by EJ Conzola II

By EJ Conzola II

As the Lake George Park Commission awaits the decision by a state appellate court that will affect its efforts to use an aquatic herbicide to control an invasive plant in the lake, commission members are hoping to convince opponents of the plan to rethink their stand.

Commission Executive Director David Wick, several commission members and a Lake Luzerne Town Board member met with Town of Dresden officials on Feb. 12 to argue that the use of ProcellaCOR is the most effective way to fight the invasive Euroasian watermilfoil.

“We know it’s safe, we know it’s effective,” Wick told the town officials, who voted one year ago to oppose the commission’s plan after a similar presentation by opponents of the proposal. “The aquatic world … is vastly improved,” Wick said.

The commission had submitted applications to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency to test ProcellaCOR in Sheep Meadow Bay in Dresden and Blair’s Bay in the Town of Putnam. However, that proposal was blocked after a state Supreme Court justice ruled the APA had violated its own policies regarding the permit application process. The commission appealed that decision, with a hearing set for early March and a decision expected sometime in May.

While the court case was playing out, the permit applications had expired. The commission plans to resubmit the applications with the objective of treating the two sites sometime between mid-May and the end of June.

The controversy over the herbicide plan has pitted the Lake George Park Commission against the Lake George Association – both of which say their primary interest is protecting the purity of the lake. The association is a community-based organization; the commission is a state agency.

The commission says the use of ProcellaCOR is the best way to control the milfoil, an invasive species that can crowd out local fauna and create thick mats of vegetation that can clog waterways. The association, which sued to block the permits, argues the herbicide is not necessary because current methods of attacking the plant have been effective and the long-term effects of the chemical have not been studied.

Controlling milfoil currently involves sending divers into the lake to pluck the plant out by the roots. The harvested plants are then sent through a tube to the surface, where they are collected and dumped on land to rot through a process known as diver-assisted suction harvesting.

Simply cutting the milfoil is not only ineffective, it can be counterproductive because even a small fragment of the plant can propagate.

The current process is labor-intensive and costly, Wick said, noting that areas cleared by the harvesting have to be addressed repeatedly. In contrast, the use of ProcellaCOR is inexpensive and can keep an area of the lakebed clear of milfoil for several years before a new application of the chemical is needed, he said.

The amount of ProcellaCOR needed to clear the 3.6-acre Sheep Meadow Bay, located just north of the Washington County beach in Huletts Landing, is projected to be three or four gallons – roughly the equivalent of “one drop in a large swimming pool,” Wick said.

The chemical dissipates to undetectable levels within 24 hours of application, he added.

“It’s as close to a magic bullet as we’re going to get,” Wick said.

But Wick’s assurances did little to assuage the concerns of town officials and residents.

Town Board member Allen Wilbur, who grows fruits and vegetables using water drawn from the lake, asked why – if ProcellaCOR is so safe and so quickly dissipates – water from treated areas cannot be used for agricultural purposes for seven days after application.

Board member Marilyn Borden noted that ProcellaCOR is a relatively new chemical, so there are no studies of its long-term impacts. She pointed out other substances – from cigarettes to  the pesticide DDT – were originally believed to not be harmful but that were later found to be extremely dangerous after long-term use.

Resident Ruth Carter, who works in real estate, said she has seen property sales along the lake fall through after buyers learn of the ProcellaCOR plan and that some tourists have cancelled visits to the area for the same reason.

Wick said the delay in using ProcellaCOR-treated water for agricultural purposes represented an abundance of caution; that while ProcellaCOR has only been in the United States for a little over a decade, it has been used in other countries for longer with no evidence of negative health effects; and that misinformation and Lake George’s special status as a pristine body of water may contribute to concerns about its use.

“Lake George is always held to a higher standard,” he said.

Wick’s defense of the herbicide’s use was buttressed by Town of Lake Luzerne Councilman Jim Niles, who said his community has used ProcellaCOR for several years with no problems. The town had previously used divers to fight milfoil in Lake Luzerne at a cost that had grown to more than $50,000 a year but was still “losing ground.”

At the end of the evening, Dresden Supervisor Paul Ferguson said the town has no plans to change its stand against the use of the chemical in Lake George.