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Milfoil fight could cost towns more

LEICESTER — Leicester and Salisbury voters on Town Meeting Day will be asked to substantially boost their financial commitment to removing Eurasian milfoil weeds from Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake.
Residents of both towns will be asked to earmark $7,225 toward milfoil eradication efforts in 2010, up from the $2,322 level the communities supported last year. The beefed-up financial requests come in the wake of reduced state funding for milfoil eradication, coupled with a recent spike in the spread of the nuisance aquatic weed in both lakes.
“It is not a trivial increase,” acknowledged Jay Michael, treasurer of the Lake Dunmore Fern Lake Association (LDFLA), an organization that will also raise its member dues and stage special fund-raising events to do its part in ratcheting up the milfoil harvesting budget.
“No one wants a bigger budget,” Michael said.
But more funds will be necessary to compensate for a perfect storm of bad news on the milfoil front.
First, the LDFLA saw its state milfoil-eradication grant abruptly reduced by almost 50 percent, from $22,274 to $12,764. The state budget has been reeling from shortfalls, as the Legislature grapples with a $151 million shortfall for fiscal year 2011. The state’s milfoil grant program is primarily funded with proceeds from motorboat registration fees.
“We’re just one of many (grantees) that are seeing state funds that are harder to come by,” Michael said.
The cut in state funds forced the LDFLA to dig deep into reserves to plug a substantial revenue hole in the 2009 budget that was rendered more acute by a reinvigorated milfoil infestation in the two lakes.
Allen Wilson, the LDFLA’s milfoil program director, said he believes the cause of the latest spike in weed growth can be traced to the flooding of August, 2008. That flooding cut the LDFLA’s milfoil pulling season short by at least four weeks, due to turbulent waters. The high waters are also suspected to have compromised some of the shoreline septic systems, sending weed-nourishing waste into the lakes, Wilson said.
As a result, milfoil returned with a vengeance in 2009, prompting the LDFLA to expand its paid weed pulling crew from four to six people. Each summer that crew dons diving gear to do underwater pulling, at the roots, and brings the weeds to the surface in mesh bags for disposal.
“The goal is to get this under control again and bring (the pulling team) down to a four-person crew,” said Wilson, who hopes the association can soon invest in a vacuum harvester to suck the pulled weeds from where they are pulled underwater.
Milfoil infestation has hit particularly hard in the northern end of Lake Dunmore and the western section of Fern Lake. Moderate new growth was spotted in the eastern/mid sections of Dunmore and along the eastern shore of Fern Lake, according to Wilson.
“Our biggest concern is the heavy-growth areas,” Wilson said. “It is spread through fragments. That’s how it moves up and down the lake.”
The LDFLA had a milfoil eradication budget of $53,845 in 2008. Of that, $22,274 was provided by the state; and $2,624 each from Leicester, Salisbury and the LDFLA. The balance of the budget was provided through in-kind contributions of volunteer time, equipment and storage facilities.
Expenses grew to $67,247 last year, when a whopping 40,000 plants were pulled (compared to 18,415 in 2008). The LDFLA had to scramble for an additional $5,473 in reserves to help cover the new costs, associated primarily with having to hire two additional pullers.
This year’s LDFLA milfoil budget is being pegged at $72,982, of which $47,987 is needed in cash. Program managers are hoping for at least the same $12,500 grant from the state, coupled with $7,225 each from Leicester and Salisbury and $21,037 from the LDFLA. Organization leaders plan to raise their extra funds through a modest bump in member dues along with some new, special events — such as a silent auction and a first-ever “Dunmore Dip.” The Dunmore Dip calls for a clock to be set on a pallet on ice in the cove along Route 53, just south of Camp Keewaydin. When the ice melts, the pallet will drop and the clock will get wet, causing it to stop. People have a chance to pay $1 per guess on what day and time the clock will stop. The winner will get half the proceeds from the raffle; the other half will go to the milfoil program.
“The goal is to set into motion ongoing programs for funds to earmark for milfoil,” Michael said.
Anyone seeking more information on the LDFLA and the Dunmore Dip can log on to www.ldfla.com.
John Flowers is at [email protected]

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