Laconia — February 1, 2008 — Although City Council members don’t want Lake Winnisquam to return to the old days of being green with weeds, they’re also leery of contributing municipal money toward what some see as the state’s obligation to combat invasive milfoil.
That said, the council on Monday nonetheless agreed that it would consider giving $5,000 annually to an ongoing five-year, roughly $30,000 effort to combat milfoil on Lake Winnisquam.
That discussion will occur as part of the deliberations on the fiscal 2008-2009 budget, which should begin in March.
Jody Connor, who is director of the state Department of Environmental Services’ Limnology Center, and Brian Wolf of the Lake Winnisquam Association, told the council that milfoil is headed Laconia’s way from Meredith, although some is already here.
What in 2003 had been a 12-acre area of milfoil in the Chemung section of Meredith at the northern tip of Lake Winnisquam has now grown into 38 acres and it’s spreading southward, said Connor. Milfoil has also been detected in the Winnipesaukee River, near where the state is building a public boat launch in Laconia, and also immediately nearby off the beach at the end of Fair Street.
There are concentrations of milfoil in Belmont and Tilton, too, Connor said, adding that left unchecked, it would grow “like wildfire” in Lake Winnisquam.
Connor said any money Laconia gave to the milfoil control effort would be combined with $15,000 it is seeking from the town of Meredith and $8,700 that the state has already committed.
A Belmont resident, Connor said 65 lakes and ponds in New Hampshire have milfoil in them, including Pickerel Cove in Paugus Bay and Lake Opechee, both of which are in Laconia.
The current treatment method is to use an herbicide to kill the milfoil while other control measures include using an underwater vacuum and paying people, as part of the Lake Host program, to check boats and trailers for milfoil as they go in and out of the water.
Some private boat dealers and marinas are actively working to control milfoil, with several having contributed to the state program and others paying their own way, said Connor.
Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel proposed raising the state boat registration fee to cover milfoil control and Connor replied that the state already collects that fee from in-state boaters, but “unfortunately, there’s just not enough money.”
Out-of-state boaters do not pay anything, he added, and many of them overstay the two-week limit on New Hampshire’s lakes.
Connor pointed to the successful milfoil control effort in Smith Cove on Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford where “for the first time in 20 years, they can see the bottom now.”
City Manager Eileen Cabanel told Connor and Wolf that Laconia operates under a municipal spending cap that makes any new expenditures difficult. She also reminded them that the state owns and therefore is responsible for the condition of New Hampshire’s lakes.
And yet, when both the Legislature and the DES underfund milfoil control, “then you come to us,” she said, noting that in recent years the state has been increasingly focused on Laconia’s collection of boat registration fees.
Meanwhile, the state — through the counties — is passing down other costs, such as the operation of county nursing homes, to the cities and towns, said Cabanel.
Connor replied that protecting water quality is in Laconia’s financial interest, pointing out that the presence of milfoil in Pickerel Cove forced the city to decrease its assessment of a number of waterfront properties there.
“We’re the ones who live here and suffer the consequences,” Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman acknowledged in urging that the council take a closer look at the request for milfoil control money. Back some 20-30 years ago, Lake Winnisquam was “a hazard and an eyesore,” he said, and Laconia “could lose a lot” if it doesn’t act soon.
Mayor Matt Lahey called the milfoil money request another example of a “pass down from the state of New Hampshire” while Hamel added that the problem is caused by boaters who spread the milfoil and it is them who should pay to correct it.