Late Application of Herbicide to Rogers Lake Causes Confusion, Lack of Notice, in Old Lyme

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OLD LYME — On Monday, July 8, for a third straight year, Rogers Lake was treated with Clipper, a Flumioxazin-based herbicide meant to eradicate invasive pond weeds.

What has changed this year, however, is that neither residents, nor the Parks and Recreation Department in Old Lyme, nor the Rogers Lake Authority, was given prior warning.

“We wanted the treatment done by the second week of June, but we didn’t get the permit in time. So as soon as the company got the permit they posted it in The Day and did the spraying,” said Bonnie Reemsnyder, the first selectman of Old Lyme. “I was on vacation when they got the notice so nobody was alerted.”

The permit was issued by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to The Pond and Lake Connection – a company based in Brookfield – on June 28. A notice was printed in The New London Day on July 1, but no other warning or information given to any Lyme or Old Lyme residents, departments or organizations.

“In the past, I always was told beforehand. Yesterday, I found out after the fact,” said Don Bugbee, the director of Parks and Recreation in Old Lyme. Bugbee is in charge of Hains Park, the only public swimming beach on the lake.

Public bathing area at Rogers Lake (Credit: CT Examiner/Werth)

The “surprise,” late season treatment resulted in the park’s closure for swimmers for 24 hours during peak season, and a lot of confusion. Without any direct communication from the towns’ leaders, lifeguards at Hains Park prevented anyone from swimming and were unsure when it would be safe to allow anyone in the water again.

“People were coming and pouring out some liquid into the lake and didn’t talk to us at all,” said Evelyn Fuentes, a high school student at Lyme-Old Lyme and a parking lot attendant at Hains Park. “Someone told us not to let anyone in the water afterwards.”

According to Lyme’s First Selectman Steven Mattson, preventing swimmers and boaters was not necessary.

“The chemical is not dangerous to swimmers. The DEEP permit only has us publicize the treatment in the paper,” Mattson said. Three years ago, “there was a warning for 24 hours just to make people feel a little better.”

Mattson explained that residents around the lake saw the treatment taking place or saw the sign that The Pond and Lake Connection posted and got concerned since they remembered years previously being warned not to go in the water when herbicides were used.

“I believe one resident from Old Lyme went down to talk to the lifeguards,” Mattson said. “There was just a lot of confusion because no information was shared when normally it should have been.”

In past years, Reemsnyder has taken the lead in alerting residents to the coming treatment, but this year the permit was issued much later than expected, and the Pond and Lake Connection went ahead with the treatment as soon as they received a permit. The herbicide is most effective when applied early in the growing season.

“Our pesticide aquatic permits are issued on a first come, first served basis… so processed in the order that they are received. The scheduling of the application is not known at the time that the permit is granted by DEEP. The timing of the application is important because of the stage of the weeds that they are trying to control,” said Diane Jorsey, the supervisor of the pesticide program at DEEP.

Although several town officials and other DEEP employees pointed to DEEP’s understaffing as the possible reason for the delayed permit, Jorsey said the application process is not taking any longer this year.

“The process has been streamlined as much as possible,” Jorsey said. “We ask applicants to get all their ducks in a row ahead of time, like reviews from public health and endangered species, so the process goes as smoothly as possible.”

Although The Pond and Lake Connection was issued this permit twice before, it would be illegal for them to treat Rogers Lake a third time without receiving a new permit.

Despite the confusion with this year’s treatment, the eradication of invasive species in the lake has been a success, Mattson said.

“We are only having to treat less than 20 percent of the areas that we originally sprayed,” Mattson said. “We evaluate at the end of every season and will continue to treat until we decide the eradication is complete.”

The eradication project was started three years ago after residents complained about the growth on the lake and consultants hired by the towns recommended herbicide treatment.

“Rogers lake wants to go to meadow,” Mattson said. “It is very hard to keep it the same and usable for residents when the world is changing.”

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