At the Windham Town Council meeting last Tuesday, the Little Sebago Lake Association made a plea to the town to support the association’s efforts to combat milfoil infestation.

Sharon Bard-Young and Bill Shelley of the LSLA voiced their concern for the lake and asked councilor members to consider a financial contribution to the cause.

This past February, they asked the Gray Town Council to do the same in an effort to raise $25,000 in municipal donations from towns surrounding the lake. If the money is raised, an anonymous donor has vowed to match the sum.

Milfoil has been a growing problem for Maine’s lakes. It is classified as an invasive Eurasian aquatic plant. Because it isn’t native to Maine lakes, it slowly chokes ecosystems and kills all native plant life in the water. If left alone, it spreads like a net across lakes to make navigation and swimming near impossible, the LSLA members said.

In the summer of 1999, a suspicious plant was first discovered growing in Mumford Cove on Little Sebago Lake. The LSLA closely monitored its growth, unsure whether it was milfoil or an unknown non-invasive aquatic plant. A sample of plant was taken to the Coalition Of Lake Associations and identified as a variable milfoil, but did not match the species of milfoil that had ravaged lakes in other states. By 2001, the threat was evident; the whole cove had exploded with a milfoil infestation. The LSLA hired divers to remove the milfoil by hand, but by the time they had picked clean portions of Mumford Cove, milfoil was discovered up toward the Gray side of the lake in Beaver Cove.

Since then, milfoil has rapidly spread to neighboring coves in both Gray and Windham. The LSLA has conducted educational programs to inform residents about the problem, launched plant patrols to watch for new outbreaks and continued efforts to remove the milfoil. Increased efforts to hand-pick the milfoil have proved ineffective due to the limited number of volunteers and the quick growth of the milfoil. In 2004, the donation of a pontoon boat allowed the organization to begin construction on a dredging apparatus that they hope will expedite this process.

“We’ve come up with a method that is a dredging technique that we tested last year,” Bill Shelley said, “We have developed a device, a suction dredge to using a Venturi method to actually suck the milfoil and its root right through the Venturi. We take a normal pump and discharge and develop Venturi tube that creates a vacuum, just like a vacuum cleaner. With this and a diver in the water, we can clean a large track and keep moving at all times. The discharge point will go into strainer baskets, capture the milfoil, let the water and any of the silt right back out through the boat and back into the lake. The idea will be that we will have four stations that milfoil and water will come up. As one bag fills, we will close the valve and it will go to the next station. A boat, off to the side, that will take the bags [for disposal].”

The LSLA will also continue to hand-remove milfoil in small areas near the shoreline and use the dredger to vacuum the larger masses that spread throughout the coves. The LSLA admitted to the council that this would be a “long, labor-intensive project.” Due to the high-clarity of the water, Little Sebago Lake is a fertile breeding ground for the plant, they said, making mitigation difficult.

The LSLA has been invested in protecting Little Sebago Lake since 1924, though it only became an official non-profit organization last December. The LSLA rebuilt and now maintains the Collins Pond Dam and runs the warden service for Little Sebago as well as a water-quality program. In past years, the LSLA has relied on membership dues to fund their lake-protection efforts, but they are now in need of additional contributions to fund the milfoil eradication campaign.

“We act as the stewards of the lake and the water and it is not a written obligation,” Sharon Bard-Young told councilors, “It is something that we do from the heart because we love the lake. We do all the maintenance and activity that we can, but we do have to recognize what’s within our organization’s financial capacity and that’s the point that we’ve reached.”

No decision has been made by the council as of this date. Councilors did express that they view the milfoil situation as a serious problem. However, it is uncertain whether an allocation of funds for the LSLA is feasible at this time with the town’s budget deadline quickly approaching.

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