Milfoil program faces funding shortfall

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

NAPLES — Lakes Environmental Association is “doing the best we can with the resources available,” but could use some financial help from the business community in its efforts to prevent the spread of milfoil into the upper Songo River and Brandy Pond, Executive Director Peter Lowell said Monday.

“We’ve had some luck with landowners, but we’ve not had any luck raising money from the business community,” Lowell said, as LEA gets ready to beef up its patrols this summer at the ever-popular Songo Lock.

Lowell estimates it’s going to take $15,000 to $20,000 in donations from the private sector to conduct the necessary work this summer, both at the lock and at the marinas along the Causeway. Last summer, LEA Courtesy Boat Inspectors checked more than 4,400 boats at the lock, the majority of which were headed upstream to the upper river, Brandy Pond and Long Lake. LEA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past six years to clear this area of milfoil, and fears the infestation at the lock will cause the plant to spread out of control.

LEA, along with an informal group of business owners, Chamber officials and others have been considering a plan to dredge the worst area of milfoil infestation around the lock. LEA has done some transects of the shoreline near the lock to help to estimate the volume of material that will need to be dredged. But Lowell said LEA is not driving the dredging plan — the business community is.

Kent Uicker, owner of the Songo River Queen II, said Al Frick, a permit specialist from Frick Associates, is putting together a permit by rule to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection. The difficulty, he said, is that most all of the businesses are very busy right now as the summer season is getting into full swing.

“It’s a slow process, and unfortunately, now, it’s been slowed even more. We’re all volunteers and we’re in the midst of our busiest time of the year,” said Uicker

Uicker said the marina owners and businesses are still awaiting an answer from the commissioner of the state Department of Conservation on their request that lock fees be increased this year from the $6 per trip cost. The extra revenue would be earmarked to support the dredging.

Lowell said that the dredging is far from certain, so his crew is concentrating on handpulling plants below the lock as in past years. They’ve also increased boat inspections; there will be two Courtesy Boat Inspectors on duty during the peak boating times of the season, he said.

“We really feel like our traditional message of hand-pulling, suction harvesting and benthic barriers is all LEA can do this season with the available funding,” Lowell said. The Portland Water District has contributed $2,000, landowners have kicked in another $2,000, and the town of Naples has contributed $5,000 to battle milfoil. Most of that money goes toward the harvesting and boat inspections, Lowell said.

“The plant harvesting needs people to step up and support it,” said Lowell.

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