Application set for June, despite opposition from two commissioners and public
By Zachary Matson
Lake George Park officials will move forward with a plan to combat invasive Eurasian watermilfoil with an aquatic herbicide, overruling public concerns about potential long term harms to human health and the lake ecosystem.
Lake George Park commissioners on a 6-2 vote Tuesday approved a $39,000 contract to apply ProcellaCOR EC to two bays on the eastern shore of the northern half of the lake. Officials are eyeing the application in June at Sheep Meadow Bay and Blair’s Bay before native plants emerge.
Most commissioners argued the plan relied on scientific evidence finding the herbicide had “negligible risk to the public health” and was effective against the invasive plants that choke out native varieties.
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“If the science was negative, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Commission Chair Ken Parker.
Commissioners Bill Mason and Dean Cook cast the dissenting votes, arguing they did not have enough information to be confident the herbicide was safe.
“One of the things that is lacking in this is we don’t really know what it does to human beings over the long haul,” Cook said.
Many lake residents and a coalition of advocacy groups, including the Lake George Association and the Adirondack Council, have opposed the plan and Tuesday expressed disappointment with the commission’s decision. The Hague Town Board unanimously opposed the plan. A petition circulated in recent weeks generated over 1,000 signatures in opposition.
Detractors at Tuesday’s meeting, who were given a chance to speak after the commission’s vote, cited a history of other chemical treatments that were found to have serious public health and environmental consequences decades after their regulatory approval and widespread use.
“Long term studies only bear themselves out in the long term,” said Tom Morhouse, a former park commissioner.
Cathy McDonald, who lives near one of the planned application sites, said she didn’t think it would be safe to swim in or drink the water after the herbicide was used and asked commissioners if they would let their kids swim in the treated waters.
Carol Collins, a limnologist who lives on Lake George, worried that various species would be harmed by the herbicide and said the monitoring plan would not measure many of the ways it could influence the ecosystem.
“This is in my opinion a test, but it doesn’t have the benefit of learning from it,” Collins said.
Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky said there remained unanswered questions about how the herbicide will affect the lake’s broader ecology and the many species that make up the food chain. Navitsky also highlighted a narrow vote of approval by the Adirondack Park Agency and the widespread public concerns he said had not been adequately addressed.
Eric Siy, president of the Lake George Association, vowed to continue fighting use of the herbicide, calling for more analysis of potential impacts to the lake.
“Even though today’s vote is not unexpected, but truly disappointing, it’s not going to deter those who are intent on keeping this chemical out of the lake until we know more,” Siy said in public comments.
A legal challenge may be the only path left to stop or delay application. The association stated it will “consider any and all options available to put this premature plan on pause for the protection of Lake George.”
Park commission leaders, though, cited state and federal approval of the herbicide and its widespread success in other lakes fighting milfoil. New Hampshire has used the herbicide in numerous lakes, including in drinking water source Lake Winnipesaukee, and in some places seen a return of long-missing native plant species.
The herbicide has also been used in Minerva Lake and Glen Lake near Lake George, where it eliminated nearly all of the invasive milfoil for multiple years.
The APA approved a project permit for Lake George earlier this month, despite opposition from Chairman John Ernst and three other board members. Ernst said he was “uncomfortable using this as an experiment,” and Zoe Smith said she wanted to see more robust analysis of the potential impacts.
On Lake George, the park commission and other organizations have been battling milfoil since it was first spotted in 1986, running up a bill in the subsequent decades of over $7 million. The commission spent over $400,000 in 2021 to remove milfoil by hand and by using teams of divers.
Dave Wick, executive director of the park commission, said hand harvesting has been effective in many parts of the lake but the milfoil persists in some sites of dense growth. Even when crews attempt to remove the plants, fragments are able to reestablish large infestations. The commission gave up altogether on hand harvesting efforts at the two sites included in the approved plan.
Wick highlighted a guarantee that milfoil plants won’t return to herbicide-treated sites within three years, calling it a “strong statement.”
“It really could be a game changer for helping control milfoil on Lake George,” Wick said.
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