The long simmering debate about using an herbicide to fight an invasive weed in Lake Iroquois roiled to a boil at the Hinesburg Selectboard meeting on Thursday, May 6.
A long and penetrating discussion of advantages and dangers of applying the herbicide ProcellaCOR to areas of the lake was winding down when Hinesburg resident Elizabeth Deutsch was given the final opportunity to speak. But when she responded to Chris Conant of the Lake Iroquois Association with profanity and an accusation that it was an “older white man talking down to somebody,” Chair Phil Pouech quickly shutdown the discussion.
Conant and Jeff Davis of the Lake Iroquois Recreation District joined the online meeting to give an update on the application to the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to use the herbicide. The application process is in a public comment phase. People can express their support or opposition to ProcellaCOR at enb.vermont.gov/?id=7714 through June 1.
“I’m going to be right straightforward and tell you that it’s a very emotional and very difficult decision for herbicide to be used in in the lake,” Conant said. He said ProcellaCOR was used on four Vermont lakes in 2019 and the deterioration of the milfoil was almost immediate.
Conant said the LIA will continue to use hand pulling and benthic mats in the fight against milfoil. Benthic mats are laid on the bottom of a body of water to kill plants, but they also kill other plants and animals.
A five-year plan for Lake Iroquois
The LIA’s proposal is for a five-year plan with application of the herbicide on the first and second years, hand pulling and strategies without the herbicide for the next two years and spot applications to problem areas after that, he said.
“If we get to use to the herbicide, we’re looking at about $1,300 dollars an acre to do the treatment for the first year,” Conant said. “We’re looking at almost a $200,000 project for the next five years.”
The Lake Iroquois beach has been losing money for the last several years, said Jeff Davis, Hinesburg’s representative to the Lake Iroquois Recreation District. “We feel like at least some of this is due to the milfoil. Especially in July and August, it smells.”
Davis said the half-life of ProcellaCOR is 1.5 hours.
Hinesburg resident and retired chemist James Bruce said the half-life just refers to the herbicide. “It doesn’t tell me what by-products it goes to. I’m sure that the dissipated species aren’t inert either,” he said.
Bruce pointed out the manufacturer’s literature says plants develop a resistance to ProcellaCOR and suggests there may be a need to switch to another herbicide in the future. “It sort of seems like we’re headed down a path of chasing one thing after another. I’m not sure how that ends,” he said.
Bruce said he would be reluctant to conclude that there was no cancer and genetic damage from an herbicide that’s only been around for two or three years.
From good compost to bad
Nancy Wright said she’d lived at the south end of the lake for 25 years. For many years her husband Steve Lidle was the state’s water quality testing volunteer and was on the Lake Iroquois Association board.
When Lidle opposed the use of herbicides, she said he was told, “Board members must be unanimous in their vote and if he didn’t agree he really wasn’t welcome. He ended up resigning.”
Wright said she sometimes rakes up floating pieces of milfoil that gather in mats at the south end of the lake. She praised its use as compost.
But the manufacturer’s literature says not to use milfoil for compost after it’s treated with ProcellaCOR.
Meg Handler also lives on the lake and said she also was asked to leave the LIA board for opposing herbicide use.
“The Lake Iroquois Association is painting what I would call a very dreary and depressing view of the lake,” Handler said. “I look out and I see eagles, osprey, herons, kingfishers.”
She sees a thriving natural community “doing better and better” and adapting to milfoil.
PROcellacor was “approved under a system of expedited review,” Handler said. “The EPA chose to rely upon industry testing alone.”
Toxic algae concern
“I’m concerned about toxic algae. I’ve read scientific papers that say when you use herbicide it increases the incidence of toxic algae blooms,” Handler said. “Milfoil is definitely a nuisance weed. Toxic algae is dangerous.”
As this portion of the meeting was drawing to a close, Pouech said he doesn’t normally share his thoughts about issues the selectboard is to consider, but in this situation felt it was appropriate. He said he had never been an advocate for herbicide.
“I think the plants just adapt. You see that in nature,” Pouech said. “I have a degree in environmental science. If I put that aside, I would say it’s not a good approach for the town as far as monetary reasons. There would really be no end in sight. For that reason, I lean against it and for environmental reasons.”
Deutsch said the Lake Iroquois Association has claimed it will supply drinking water to residents on the lake when the ProcellaCOR is applied. The World Health Organization recommends 13-27 gallons of water per person a day. Deutsch asked if the LIA had budgeted for this much water for people living on the lake, their animals and those living downstream for 1-3 miles.
Conant said they hadn’t considered that yet.
He said, “I, too, had reservations at one point and I, too, have seen a lot of different concerns on the lake in the last 10 years.”
Pouech gave Deutsch the opportunity to make the last comment and she asked Conant, “I just was wondering if there was any objective data around that personal reflection?”
He replied, “You and I are never going to agree on this. You’ve raised the same issue before.”
“F--- you,” Deutsch said
Conant responded, “Pardon me. I’ve always shown respect to you. I do appreciate your comments so much. And I’m sorry that we get into this. It’s personal observation.”
“Could you ask him not to speak over to me?” Deutsch said. “I was brutally interrupted.”
Pouech asked her to go on.
“ … speaking over the woman,” said Deutsch as the audio cut in and out.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” Conant said.
“The older white man talking down to somebody,” Deutsch said.
“Excuse me,” Conant said. “Phil, I’m done.”