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State: Action Needed On Invasive Species

Old Lyme — Nuisance plants and animals are choking and degrading Connecticut's waterways, and the state needs a systematic approach to control what environmental experts consider a serious threat to native species, recreational opportunities and businesses.

That's the premise behind the proposed Connecticut Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan, the subject of a public hearing at the state Department of Environmental Protection's Marine Headquarters Thursday.

Currently, said Bill Hyatt, director of the DEP's Inland Fisheries Division, the state lacks the kind of coordinated program that's needed to address the problem posed by species such as hydrilla, water chestnut, zebra mussels, phragmites, the New Zealand mud snail, rusty crayfish and dozens of other non-native species that have flourished since their introduction to the state.

Many other states already have such plans. Connecticut officials used the Massachusetts plan as a guide, and plans from Maine, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii as references.

“I don't want to understate this. This is a very serious situation,” he said. “This plan would enable more effective controls.”

The plan would establish ways to prevent new nuisance species from entering the state and reduce existing populations, and would educate the public about their role in preventing the spread. The plan would allow the state to tap federal funds earmarked to combat this growing national problem. Some of the funds would be used to pay the salary of a new state coordinator for various initiatives, Hyatt said.

The plan, currently in draft form, must be approved by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the federal Fish & Wildlife Service before it can be enacted.

During the hearing, two North Stonington residents suggested the state offer help to lake associations trying to combat the spread of invasive weeds such as milfoil and fanwort. Bill Hixson, president of the Blue Lake Taxing District, and John O'Donnell, president of the Blue Lake Association, said the weed problem has gotten so bad that parts of the lake are unusable for boating. A representative of the Rogers Lake association in Old Lyme made similar comments.

“You put an oar down and you can't get it out,” said O'Donnell.

The state could help the lake associations by purchasing safe herbicides in bulk and offering them to the lake associations at a reduced price, Hixson said. Also, the state needs to do more to help the public understand there are chemicals that can be used safely, he said.

“A lot of the cottages around the lake have shallow-dug wells, and as soon as you mention using chemicals, people get afraid,” he said.

O'Donnell added that state assistance is particularly appropriate for lakes that have public boat-launch ramps because nuisance species are often introduced to lakes by being carried there inadvertently on boat trailers.

Two other speakers, Mike Riley and Joe Rendeiro of Stonington, said state action is needed immediately to rid Quiambaug and Wequetequok coves of an aquatic plant that has made these areas impassible this summer. They couldn't identify the plant, but Hyatt said he would alert someone at the DEP to look into the matter.

“From the first month of this boating season, you could not get out,” Riley said. “It was slimy green, gooey and icky. It was nasty.”

Rendeiro said the coves were once lush with crabs, minnows and other aquatic creatures.

“Now, nothing there is alive,” he said. “It won't be long before the marinas there go out of business.”

Thursday's hearing is the second of two on the plan. The DEP will continue receiving written comment on the draft through July 14, and then begin working on a final version.

For a copy of the draft plant, visit: or call 424-3474. Comments should be e-mailed to: or mailed to: DEP Inland Fisheries Division; Attn: ANS Comments; 79 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106.
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