A struggle for the soul of Glenmere

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:45

In summer study, engineers aim to sort out fact from fiction, By Susan Cornell CHESTER - Winter is gone, the ice has melted and the reawakened plants around Glenmere Lake are sending new green shoots in every direction. This verdancy is at the center of a long, hot debate about the lake’s future. Some say the fast-growing plants are taking over the Village of Florida’s only drinking water source and must be beaten back with herbicides. Those on the other side object to adding potentially dangerous chemicals to public drinking water and to killing plants critical to the survival of the endangered Northern Cricket Frog. The ongoing struggle was the focus of a May 25 forum hosted by the Orange County Water Authority, as civil engineers embark a summer study that will, at the end, yield a list of recommendations for the lake’s future. The action plan will take all interests into account: water quality, the welfare of plants and animals, recreation, and current and future development. Jeanine Gouin of the civil engineering firm Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire, Conn., told the audience that their work will begin right away, starting with a field reconnaissance of the lake. The engineers in their summary say much of the information going around is “anecdotal” and have set out “to develop a better understanding of the reality of existing or future threats from aquatic vegetation.” “Some residents and lakefront property owners indicate that aquatic vegetation has increased in recent decades and that this vegetation now significantly hinders recreation - particularly boating and fishing - that was once a mainstay of the lake,” the summary states. “Other residents and researchers are skeptical that native vegetation as well as invasive vegetation (such as Eurasian water milfoil) pose a threat to the Lake.” The engineers will also try to get a handle on how much eutrophication -“the process whereby a water body’s nutrient levels increase through time” - is part of the lake’s natural life cycle, and how much is caused by excess nutrients from fertilizers, animal waste, and septic systems. No specific sources of nutrients have yet been identified, the engineers say, and no extensive water quality data has yet been collected at the lake. Can people and frogs live together? The debate is being shaped by those, like Florida Mayor James Pawliczek, who believe the preservation of the endangered frog is being given undue precedence over the interests of people. He said he’s been trying to address the problem for 10 years now. Pawliczek is interested in aeration to control the overgrowth problem and asked consultants to consider this method in their review. Proponents of using herbicides argue that since the frogs have been at the lake longer than the lily pads, the frog should not be affected if the lily pads are eradicated. This is the kind of question the civil engineers may be able to help settle. But some in the audience objected even to this study, arguing that many people are suffering through financial hard times right now and cannot afford to pay for more research or enforcement. Others at the forum suggested drawing up a list of game rules for developers to follow. Who will adopt the consultants’ plan and who will implement and enforce their recommendations asked others. Others at the forum included the County Commissioner of Planning David E. Church; Kelly Dobbins, senior planner/project manager, Orange County Water Authority; Richard Coriale, regional water engineer for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservations Region 3 Division of Water. Gouin and David Murphy of Milone & MacBroom said they wanted to hear about what issues were important to the public before starting their study. They plan to make their recommendations available to the public by the end of the year.

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For more information, visit http://waterauthority.orangecountygov.com/glenmere.html.