Ossipee — November 15, 2004 — The logic is inescapable: unless state funding is increased, the more that milfoil spreads in Ossipee Lake, the more that local communities will have to pay to control it.
Ossipee is facing that fact this month as it considers how much money it will cost the town for a second clean-up of the milfoil in Phillips Brook and Leavitt Bay, and for an initial treatment of a new infestation of the damaging weed in Portsmouth Cove between Leavitt Bay and Broad Bay.
The decision won’t be easy. If the state treats the weeds with an herbicide, the town will pay half of the cost for Phillips Brook and Leavitt Bay, perhaps $2,500, and only the cost of the permitting fee for Portsmouth Cove. The state would pay the rest; that is, if it has money in its clean-up fund next spring. In addition to the funding uncertainty, herbicide treatments are not always successful. After Phillips Brook and Leavitt Bay were treated with an herbicide last spring, the weeds were back in full force in a matter of weeks.
As an alternative, hand-harvesting by professional divers is a promising new control method. Ossipee Lake Alliance and the town of Freedom are testing it in Danforth Pond where, so far, eight truckloads of the weed weighing close to 10,000 pounds have been removed from the lake by a team of divers from Maine.
While the Alliance and Freedom officials are cautiously optimistic about the Danforth Pond effort, diving is more expensive than using chemicals. The estimate presented to Ossipee’s Selectmen for divers to clean up the town’s three infestations is $15,000 – and it’s uncertain whether the state will cover any portion of the cost. Meanwhile, the town must decide how much money to put in the town warrant.
“The unfortunate reality is that our towns need to budget aggressively for milfoil control,” says the Alliance’s executive director, David Smith. “The weeds aren’t going to stop spreading while we wait for a decision on who should pay the bill, and the stakes are high.”
What’s at stake? Left untreated, milfoil can affect property values and reduce tax revenues. Officials estimate that non-resident property owners, a majority of whom own waterfront land, pay 55-65% of local property taxes. Milfoil also poses a threat to marinas, campgrounds, and children’s camps, as well as off-lake businesses that rely on tourism.
The decision on how much to budget for milfoil control comes as Ossipee and Freedom property owners get their first look at tax increases stemming from recent state-mandated property revaluations.
“With so many people on and off the lake looking at substantial tax increases, taxes will likely play an important role in the discussion of this issue,” Smith says.