2013-03-28 / News

Les Cheneaux Continues to Weigh Water Milfoil Reduction Plans

By Paul Gingras

To tackle the complex and controversial issue of how to safely reduce Eurasian watermilfoil, a nuisance plant choking Les Cheneaux Islands waterways, the Clark Township Board of Trustees is calling together members of the public and experts on the issue to a government-sponsored public meeting, to be held in association with the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council at the Clark Township Community Center in Cedarville. It is tentatively planned for Thursday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m., pending confirmation of attendance by experts, said township Supervisor Gary Reid.

Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM) is a tenacious plant affecting boating, recreation, and safety in area waterways, and residents are concerned that it could reduce property values, also.

The Les Cheneaux Watershed Council has developed a multifaceted plan that includes mechanical harvesting and biological controls such as weevils and fungus to reduce invasive watermilfoil. Another group, Les Cheneaux Pure Water, has applied for a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit through its contractor, PLM Lake and Management, to apply herbicides.

Although there is no guarantee that herbicides will be used, the application was made pending approval by the public, so that authorization would be in place if chemical means are to be used to combat EWM this year, said members of the watershed council.

Applying herbicides appears to be a promising way to remove milfoil quickly, but using chemicals to control the weeds has sparked concern by area residents, explained Mr. Reid in a letter to the DEQ, which was read at the township’s monthly meeting Wednesday, March 20.

“We are concerned with the fact that there is a multitude of undocumented potable water intake systems throughout the proposed treatment area which are not adequately addressed in either the permit or management plan,” the letter states.

Since proposed herbicides to battle milfoil must be applied at specific distances from the locations where drinking water is drawn, and proposed products include warnings regarding skin contact, “responsible contingency planning should be strictly observed prior to the issuance of any permit,” the letter states.

The township’s letter to the DEQ calls for a public hearing.

“In the interest of the public’s right to know we believe it is only responsible to sponsor a public hearing locally which affords everyone the opportunity to direct questions or otherwise gain pertinent information relative to the scope of activities covered by this permit prior to the commencement of any activity,” it states.

The letter is signed by Mr. Reid, township Treasurer Katie Carpenter, and township Clerk Susan Rutledge.

The communication to the DEQ comes on the heels of a letter distributed to area residents by Jason Broekstra, a biologist and vice president of Great Lake Operations for PLM. In it, he describes the tenacious nature of the plant and how it damages local waterway ecology. Eurasian watermilfoil also “concentrates its biomass at the water surface, where it strongly interferes with boating, swimming, and other human activities,” Mr. Broekstra writes.

He details efforts at Les Cheneaux to control invasive watermilfoil, including mechanical harvesting and biological controls such as EWM-eating weevils.

Mechanical harvesting is “best suited for native plant species,” (while this one is not native), and “biological control options for nuisance aquatic vegetation are limited,” he writes.

Mr. Broekstra specifically addresses weevil stocking in the area. Weevils are tiny insects that live in colonies. They have been placed at Les Cheneaux to eat invasive milfoil and reduce the plant’s infestation.

“The use of this tool remains unpredictable and EWM spreads faster than weevil populations,” Mr. Broekstra writes.

“Aquatic herbicides currently represent the most reliable, effective, selective means for controlling Eurasion watermilfoil,” he contends, however, owing to “unfortunate misconceptions and other influences” about proposed herbicides, a controversial product called 2,4-D “will not be proposed for the selective control of EWM within the Les Cheneaux Islands.”

Another proposed herbicide, which contains Fluridone, will not be used either, he added.

Both are safe and commonly used throughout the world, Mr. Broekstra said.

“If an herbicide is used for EWM control in 2013 it will be Renovate OTF, active ingredient Triclopyr,” on a limited scale, he writes.

OTF is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan DEQ, he added.

The township government continues to receive letters about the matter, most recently by Mark and Ester Engle of Cedarville, who are concerned about the potential to pollute local waters and ruin area businesses, township officials said.

Mr. Broekstra agrees a public forum to address the issue this spring will be helpful.

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