×

State Rejects Milfoil Plan At Quechee’s Lake Pinneo

  • Kassidi Williams watches her daughter Addison Hutt, 3, play in the water at Lake Pinneo in Quechee, Vt., on May 23, 2018. The Vermont Department of Enviromental Conservation has indicated it will deny a permit being sought by Quechee Lakes Landowners Association to treat milfoil at Lake Pinneo. Williams lives in Quechee and often walks to the lake in the summer. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Quechee — State regulators say they will deny the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association permission to use a chemical herbicide to treat an invasive aquatic plant at Lake Pinneo.

A popular recreation spot that’s scheduled to open to all Hartford residents for the first time in three years on June 17, the lake has been plagued by invasive Eurasian watermilfoil, which grows in dense mats that not only threaten the local ecology but also restrict swimming, fishing and boating opportunities for humans.

The association sought a permit from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation that would have allowed a contractor to use 2.5 gallons of Sonar over the course of four summertime treatments on the 52-acre lake as part of a $70,700, five-year eradication plan. In a draft permit submitted for public comment earlier this year, the DEC’s Watershed Management Division established an upper limit for Sonar’s active ingredient, fluridone, of five parts per billion, significantly below the levels thought to be harmful to humans.

But after hearing public comment and a recommendation from its Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, state staffers are now drafting a letter of denial, according to Josh Mulhollem, the DEC’s aquatic invasive species management coordinator.

“Based on (the recommendations of the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division not to support the permit), a denial will be written,” Mulhollem said on Wednesday. “The applicant has been notified of our intent to issue a denial.”

QLLA President Craig Allsopp expressed disappointment in the decision, which he said will force the association to continue a labor-intensive eradication effort that has cost tens of thousands of dollars over the past two years.

“We are limited to spot treatment this year using mechanical and diver harvesting. This, unfortunately, will not stop the milfoil from spreading and affecting the swimming, fishing and boating in the lake,” Allsopp said on Wednesday in a statement he sent to QLLA’s 1,400 members and the Valley News.

“Long term, Sonar is the only practical way to keep our lake from becoming milfoil choked like Dewey’s Pond across from Marshland Farm,” Allsopp wrote. He also said he had not received formal notification of the denial.

In April, while the public comment period was ongoing, the draft permit suggested that the danger of using fluridone as outlined was small.

“The risk to the environment and public health is so minimal that only inconsequential harm is expected to occur as a result of the proposed control activity,” the draft permit reads.

With invasive milfoil present in at least 80 water bodies in Vermont, the state has approved the use of fluridone in a handful of cases, and denied it in others, depending on local conditions, according to Mulhollem. In this case, Allsopp attributed the reversal to “concerns expressed by Town water officials and others.”

During the public comment period, Rick Kenney, Hartford’s chief water system operator, wrote a letter to the DEC questioning whether the proposal did enough to protect a town well, located about 220 feet from Lake Pinneo, that provides 42 million gallons of pristine water to 2,000 Quechee residents.

In his letter, Kenney asked for more information about groundwater testing data used to support the draft permit’s initial conclusions, and he suggested that the testing process in the draft permit was inadequate to protect the well.

Kenney said on Wednesday that he had not received a formal response to his questions, and said he wouldn’t consider the permit denied until he sees a formal letter.

Kenney said his letter was not meant to oppose the permit.

“There was nothing regarding opposition,” he said. “These are just questions. This is just clarification.”

The lake, which was built in 1974, sits on a heavy plastic liner; QLLA asserted in its application that there were no indications of leaks in the liner, a claim that was questioned by QLLA member Honey Donegan in a public comment.

And QLLA member Niki Thran, a physician who also sits on the Hartford Energy Commission, raised concerns about the health impacts of fluridone on the fetuses of pregnant mothers.

More will be known about the specific reasons for denial when the formal letter is drafted and made public, something that Mulhollem said “will be at least a couple of weeks.”

In the statement he sent to QLLA members, Allsopp indicated that the next step would likely be an appeal of the denial, but there is little chance an appeal could be resolved before the lake’s planned opening on Father’s Day weekend, its traditional launch date.

Allsopp said public access will be restored at that time, three years after QLLA first closed the lake to non-members. Earlier this year, when it became clear that public access was a legal obligation under the lake’s original Act 250 permit, the association moved to create a fee structure, the details of which Allsopp released on Wednesday.

“Hartford residents may buy a season pass at the clubhouse for $200, or register and pay a daily fee at the gate for $20 a car,” Allsopp said.

Town Manager Leo Pullar said on Wednesday that he had not been formally notified of the fee structure.

The per-car price is difficult to compare to the per-individual price to access other aquatic offerings in the area.

Daily admission to the pool and pond at Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover is $5 per child and $10 per adult, with season-long passes ranging in price from $150 for an individual, to $450 for a family of five or more.

The Lebanon Veterans Memorial Pool charges the city’s adult residents just $2 a day (or $5 for a non-resident), or season passes ranging from $40 for a child resident, to $85 for an adult non-resident.

Access to water-based entertainment will take on added importance in Hartford this summer. The municipal Sherman Manning Pools is closed for at least the summer, and perhaps permanently, as burgeoning repair and maintenance needs caused town officials to question whether it is a cost-effective offering.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.