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Herbicide Discussion Draws Scores

Close to 100 residents showed up at a Rogers Lake Authority meeting Tuesday evening to voice their opinions on the use of herbicides to kill invasive aquatic plants that are taking over Rogers Lake, located in the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme.

Authority member Robert Roach warned Tuesday that the concentration of variable watermilfoil is more widespread than originally found in a 2003 study on the health of the lake conducted by Gerald Smith of Aquatic Control Technology in Sutton, Mass.

Roach said lack of rain this summer has exposed the weeds, which are spreading some 200 acres rather than the 50 acres originally estimated. “The lake's a mess right now,” he said, adding that the authority needed to move quickly to combat the problem.

One resident asked if the expanded milfoil meant more herbicides than expected to treat the problem. A woman said, “Oh God. Sell my house.”

The authority has been debating the use of herbicides since December, when Smith recommended the herbicide Diquat dibromide as a safe, cost-effective way of eliminating the milfoil choking the center of the lake. Smith said the milfoil look like Christmas trees under water and can grow in excess of an inch a day.

The meeting was a continuation of a meeting June 25, when the authority held a hand vote and determined that residents were split down the middle regarding herbicide use.

Though the authority can recommend the use of herbicides without a majority of residents backing them, authority chairman Fred Holth gave those critical of herbicide use until the September meeting to gather evidence that Diquat was more harmful than Smith and a representative of the state Department of Environmental Protection claimed.

On Tuesday, the authority handed out ballots asking residents to vote on whether they supported any form of weed control, whether they supported the use of herbicides and whether they had suggestions for alternative means of controlling the milfoil. The vote results were not immediately available.

Resident Ralph Young, vice chairman of the recently formed Committee for the Health of Rogers Lake, spoke strongly against the use of Diquat, reading from a document on aquatic herbicides from the town of Wellesley, Mass.

The committee also invited Karl Goldkamp, a naturopathic physician from the Center for Natural Medicine Family Practice in Old Lyme, to speak against the use of herbicides.

Holth questioned the validity of the information presented by the committee, citing the fact that most of the authors of the information referenced were not at the meeting and that Goldkamp has not studied the effects of Diquat. He said the committee showed no concrete evidence that Diquat is harmful or could raise the risk of infertility and the development of cancers.

One resident said she felt the authority was presenting the issue of herbicides with a bias.

“I don't believe you are presenting a neutral case,” said Sue Baehr. “For these arguments, yes, they should be weighed very, very carefully... but we are talking about our health.”

Resident Joanne Centola did not voice her opinion but warned residents to be critical of the research presented at the meeting.

“Be informed,” she said.

Resident Bob Skelly said after the meeting that Diquat had been scientifically backed as a viable option for treating invasive plant species and that people needed to “differentiate the emotions from the facts.”

“My understanding... is that this is the solution,” he said of the use of herbicides.

Some residents wanted to know why the authority was so quick to dismiss alternative and more expensive options to herbicide use, such as harvesting — cutting the milfoil repeatedly, like mowing a lawn — and dredging, which involves removing “nutrient rich sediments and deepening water bodies,” according to the 2003 study.

Holth said that harvesting was risky because the cutting of milfoil could distribute fragments of the weeds and potentially increase the spread of milfoil. He said Diquat was the most widely used herbicide to eliminate such non-native, invasive plants.

Resident Pat Spratt said she was originally in favor of the use of Diquat because she felt the lake is in bad shape. But she changed her mind after listening to the opposing argument.

Spratt agreed that the millions of dollars dredging would cost was a high price to pay, but said, “It's nothing for a natural resource that cannot be replaced.”
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