June 28, 2007
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRIDPORT — The Lake Champlain Restoration Association has been working since 2001 to combat the spread of aquatic nuisance plants like Eurasian milfoil in the southern part of the lake, and they recently got a helping hand. In an unusual partnership, Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is leasing aquatic weed harvesting equipment to the group, a much more effective system than what they have been using.
Chip Morgan, president of the LCRA, said that the project is all the more valuable because the southern end of the lake receives relatively little help.
“There’s been a lot of attention paid to the north end of the lake, and not enough to the south, in my opinion,” he said.
The association launched their new harvesting system for the first time on June 21 in Bridport. An aquatic plant harvester driven by paddle wheel cuts and collects weeds like milfoil, which are stored by the harvester or on a barge. When the barge or the harvester is full, a conveyor ferries the pulled weeds to a dump truck on the shore.
Morgan estimated that the harvester itself could be filled with plant cuttings in half an hour, depending on the density of the growth. The LCRA has been working on managing plant growth in the lake for a while, but until now they have been limited to using smaller and simpler machinery, and Morgan said that the new system is a “big upgrade.”
“It’ll let us do more in the same period of time,” he said.
LCRA treasurer Jim Briggs said that the cost to rent the equipment from the state will only be “a nominal amount,” but the association will also be responsible for all related fees like insurance and maintenance, and he said he did not know how much that would work out to.
According to Ann Bove of the water quality division of the ANR, the equipment, which is technically on loan to the LCRA, was funded by $293,000 earmarked for the purchase in legislation passed this spring. She said that such a project is probably unique, but was justified by how the association has already been dealing with the problem on its own.
“It’s the first (partnership like this) to my knowledge,” Bove said.
Addison County’s two Democratic State Senators, Harold Giard of Bridport and Claire Ayer of Weybridge, worked to get the funding approved by the Legislature.
Giard also saved the LCRA money by finding a usable truck a state government auction; he and Ayer were able to have the truck, which will be used to transport the harvester on land, removed from the auction and given to the LCRA.
“This is a big deal for the south lake,” Giard said. “It worked out well.”
Milfoil is probably the worst of several species of non-native aquatic life, which also includes zebra mussels and water chestnuts, that grow in the lake. All these can make boating and other recreational use a much greater challenge.
The ANR is making progress on wiping water chestnuts out of certain bodies of water, according to Bove, but as a plant with an annual growth cycle, it is easier to manage than milfoil, which is a perennial, growing year round.
“In a handful of areas, the (milfoil) plants can be quite dense,” Bove said.
Morgan said that the greatest concern comes from people who live on the lake and others in the area who want to enjoy it as a natural resource. “Their recreational use of the lake is completely choked out.”
He said milfoil grows “essentially everywhere out there, you just don’t always see it.
“We’re doing it for the people who use the water,” Morgan said.