Town opposes herbicide treatment for Stockbridge Bowl's invasive weeds

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STOCKBRIDGE — The Select Board has signaled its opposition to herbicide treatment for weed-choked portions of Stockbridge Bowl — an approach favored by an association of nearly 400 lake-area homeowners.

The board instead has begun exploring more dredging options after the preferred solution recently was rejected by the state because it could endanger a rare species of snail.

A statement read during this week's meeting emphasized that the Select Board has authorized its engineering firm to develop "two scenarios for the dredging project — one with conventional dredging and one with hydraulic dredging."

Selectman Terry Flynn said that a meeting is planned among GZA GeoEnvironmental, an East Coast and Midwest company with an office in Springfield, the Stockbridge Bowl Association and Gregg Wellencamp, an association director appointed by the Select Board to monitor the project.

The move by the board comes amid renewed discussion among various segments of the community about how to combat the Eurasian milfoil infestation of the 372-acre "Great Pond." The private, nonprofit Stockbridge Bowl Association has spearheaded a multiyear campaign to raise up to $4 million for a lake-restoration project, including considerable contributions from the town, the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A previous proposal, backed by the association and the town, called for deep dredging to allow a 5.5-foot winter drawdown, but that was vetoed several months ago by MassWildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program because of the potential risk to the Marstonia lustrica snail that inhabits the lake. Any winter drawdown of the lake, the agency said, would have to be limited to 2.9 feet, which would be less effective.

Now, the association's board and members support a state- and U.S.-approved herbicide treatment considered safe, effective and widely used, along with limited, shallow dredging to remove a huge buildup of silt along a narrow channel between Kwuniikwat Island and the Interlaken Dam.

Herbicides have been applied by SOLitude Lake Management and other providers to successfully choke weeds in more than 300 lakes statewide. In the Berkshires, herbicide treatments have been used in 19 lakes and ponds, including Onota and Pontoosuc in Pittsfield, Richmond Pond, Goose Pond in Lee and Tyringham and Otis Reservoir.

But the Stockbridge Conservation Commission firmly opposes the use of chemicals in the lake. Ultimately, the decision might be made by the state, which owns the Stockbridge Bowl.

The Select Board statement was prepared by Town Administrator Danielle Fillio and reviewed by Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares, who suggested several minor revisions.

The goal of the Select Board's effort is to "finalize a plan for these scenarios, and that meeting will be soon," Flynn said Monday. Recently, to avoid a conflict of interest, board Chairman Donald Chabon stepped aside from discussions involving the lake because he is a shoreline resident.

A number of options remain under consideration.

National Heritage Program officials have suggested hydraulic raking, a more expensive approach, to help clean the lake. And Flynn listed as an option "strategic harvesting, which has recently been used in other towns." That involves cutting the weeds mechanically, once in the spring and once in the fall.

"This allows the weeds to grow very tall in the summer, which depletes their energy, enabling the fall cutting to stunt their growth," the board statement continued.

The state agency has raised the option of "spot treatment of certain areas and certain species with herbicides," the statement acknowledged, but it did not suggest at any time that the use of herbicides "would be the only form of vegetation management that it would accept in approving any dredging project."

MassWildlife "never said it was a requirement that we take that approach," Flynn said, referring to an herbicide application.

Stockbridge Bowl Association President Richard Seltzer stressed that the association "looks forward to conferring with the two town selectmen who are not ethically conflicted and with GZA and Gregg Wellenkamp to develop a cost-effective program to present to NHESP."

The association's plan, as outlined at its recent annual meeting, is to submit a notice of intent to the town's Conservation Commission and the state for herbicide treatment by SOLitude Lake Management, shallow dredging and hydroraking. The commission would have three weeks to respond.

If the commission turns down the plan, the association could file an appeal with the state Department of Environmental Protection. Several towns opposing chemical lake treatment, including Wendell in Franklin County and Wayland in Middlesex County, west of Boston, have taken their case to the state's highest court, which has ruled in favor of herbicide applications, thus overriding local government opposition.

About $2 million is currently available to the association for a lake cleanup, including $600,000 in federal money channeled through the Department of Environment Protection. In addition, town taxpayers have approved $825,000 toward the project, while federal Clean Water grants total $910,000. The rest is being raised through more than $1 million in private donations from association members, in addition to support from foundations and local businesses.

So far, the project has consumed $1.1 million for a diversion pipe installation and engineering studies.

For at least 50 years, Stockbridge has been using mechanical harvesters for periodic weed-cutting, a temporary and partial solution. Stockbridge Bowl is used by an estimated 6,000 watercraft yearly, according to the association. The annual Josh Billings Runaground triathlon, scheduled for Sept.16 this year, includes kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards on a circuit around the lake.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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