May 1st – Latest News

Herbicide Permit

It has been eight weeks since this blog has posted a status update on our herbicide permit application.  We have been waiting, and waiting, for some good news to pass along.  What we do know is that the period for comments has passed, three comments were received from the public, of which two were favorable.  The Departments of Health and of Fish and Wildlife have given their input.  The Draft permit has been completed, and has been sent to the Lakes and Ponds Section Chief for comment.

Beyond this we can only surmise.  We have been told informally that the permit will be “favorable” and that it will be issued “in time.”  All we know for sure is that our permit is wending its way through the bureaucracy.  We will announce any further developments here as soon as we have them.

Greeter Program

This year the we will be increasing the number of hours that we have a greeter present at the boat ramp to almost twice what we were able to do last year.  With the hoped for success of the herbicide treatment, prevention will become even more important.  We urge the State to consider legislation requiring boaters to wash their boats and equipment before entering any lake.


Your Association has begun this year’s fundraising to pay for the milfoil program.  We will have to raise considerably more this year than ever before to pay for the chemical treatment.  The voters in the three towns adjacent to the lake voted to continue each town’s support.  We sent a letter to our membership asking each member to consider doubling her previous gift.  Early returns are promising.


Our annual meeting and barbecue will be on Saturday July 10th at Horizons Day Camp.

Request for Public Comments

Our application for a permit to use the herbicide triclopyr in Lake Fairlee has been accepted by the State as complete.  They have sent notice of this to all interested parties, including abutting landowners and the three towns, and asked that it be published in the valley news.  Their letter reads as follows:

Notice of Application for Aquatic Nuisance Control Permit – Title 10, Chapter 47.
For: Fairlee, Thetford, and West Fairlee – Lake Fairlee.

On February 25, 2010, the Vermont Department of Environmental conservation received a completed aquatic nuisance application permit application from the Lake Fairlee Association, requesting permission to use the aquatic pesticide, Renovate OTF in Lake Fairlee in the towns of Fairleee, Thetford, and West Fairlee, VT to control Eurasian Milfoil.

If you would like to comment please send your comments in writing to reach Susan Brittin at the Department of Environmental Conservation, Water Quality division, 103 S. Main Street, 10 N, Waterbury, VT 05671-0408 by March 19, 2010.  Review the application at he above address, M-F 7:45 am – 4:30 pm or request a copy by calling (8702) 241-3790.  A public information meeting on the application will only be scheduled if a written request from a municipality or 25 or more interested persons is received by March 19, 2010.

For publication: March 5, 2010

In other news, the towns of Fairlee, Thetford, and West Fairlee each voted at their respective town meetings to continue funding our milfoil control program for 2010.  On behalf of the lake and those who enjoy it, a hearty ‘thank you’ to their citizens.

Additional Information Requested

On December 1st, 2009, the Lake Fairlee Association applied to the State for a permit to employ the herbicide triclopyr in Lake Fairlee this year.  [see Herbicide Permit Application Filed earlier in this blog]  In a letter dated February 11th the State DEC requested more complete information about the plant species observed in the lake during Lycott’s pre-treatment aquatic plant surveys. [see Consultant’s Report Now Available]  In particular they requested “the Excel spreadsheets developed for each survey including a sample site number, depth, latitude/longitude, percent cover and the plant species observed at each site and their abundance, percent cover, and biomass.”

The raw survey data requested was readily available, and has been sent to the state.  A copy can be downloaded HERE (pdf file, 14 pages).  This is probably more detail than most of you want or need, but we would prefer to err on the side of providing too much information rather than too little.

Once the DEC has determined that our application is complete, it will publicly noticed and comments will be invited from the general public and from other State agencies and departments.  We will keep you appraised of further developments.

List of Endorsers Grows

A few weeks ago we began asking our members and friends to lend their names in support of our decision to use an herbicide in the lake this spring.  We are gratified by the number of people who have stepped forward and endorsed our plan. Among those we have enlisted so far:

  • The directors of all four childrens’ camps around the lake
  • Four MD’s who live on the lake
  • The Thetford Conservation Commission
  • The West Fairlee Health Officer

A few people we have asked have declined, explaining that they are unable to endorse any chemical use, even though they understand the reasoning behind our decision.  Most realize that if left unchecked, the milfoil threatens to progressively impede our enjoyment of our lake, eventually rendering it unusable for boating and swimming.  The proposed herbicide treatment offers the possibility of regaining control of our lake so that we can stay ahead of the milfoil by traditional means.

HERE is the list of those who have offered their names in support of our plan.

Thank you to all those who have already responded.  If you have not yet indicated your approval, please email your assent to

Gathering support for our Plan

The Political Background

The Lake Fairlee Association has decided to apply an herbicide to the lake late this spring to drastically reduce the extent of milfoil growth in our lake.  We have made this decision after consultation with the best experts we could find, after three well attended public hearings, after lots of publicity, and after considerable debate among our members.  We have tried to involve as many interested parties as possible in the discussion.  Nonetheless, the decision to hire the lake management experts and to apply for the permit was made by a relatively small group of people.

We have made this decision reluctantly, because each of us loves the lake, and none would choose this chemical intervention as a preferred course of action.  We believe that it is necessary, that the health of the lake is threatened, and that we have exhausted other means.  We have acted because action is required by circumstance, and because there is no one else who might step in to save our lake.

The lake is owned by the State of Vermont.  It is bordered by  the towns of Fairlee, Thetford, and West Fairlee.  Members of the Selectboards of each of the three towns have inquired by what authority we have made this decision.  Each has raised  the question whether such action ought not require a public vote.  Yet none of the Selectboards was willing to undertake the project itself.  Fortunately we have an active and generous Association membership which has taken responsibility for the removal and control of the invasive nuisance, Eurasian milfoil.  Over the past decade the Lake Fairlee Association has spent more than $700,000 controlling the milfoil.  Funds for this program have been obtained through grants from the State of Vermont, appropriations from the three towns, and private donations.

Whose lake is it, anyway?

The State of Vermont regulates the use of any chemicals in its waterbodies very strictly.  In their wisdom they allow either municipalities or organizations such as our lake association to manage such uses.  Most lakes are completely within the boundaries of a single town, and that town becomes the natural project manager and permit applicant.  The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation advised us that in Lake Fairlee’s case an herbicide permit might be granted to any one of the towns or to the lake association.

So for the time being we are stuck with the present arrangement.  In an ideal world the three towns might someday form a joint Commission to manage the lake, which would be a politically ordained governing body, subject to a popular vote.  For now the lake needs attention, desperately, and the Lake Fairlee Association has stepped forward to do its best.

The Association depends in part on grants from each of the three towns to do what it does to manage the milfoil.  We are grateful for their support.  Each winter at town meeting voters have an opportunity to decide whether their town will continue to fund our program.  This is one way in which all of the voters in the three towns will have a say.

Lake Fairlee is a public good.  It does not belong to just the three surrounding towns.  The lake is used and enjoyed by many who are residents of other towns, or who are only seasonal visitors.  Some of these people are long time Association members.  Each year Lake Fairlee is used by hundreds of children at the four summer camps around the lake.  These summer camps also have long supported our milfoil program.  Families and children from near and far use the Treasure Island public beach.  Fisherman come to the lake from the surrounding region summer and winter.  The Lake Fairlee Association is acting for the lake and on behalf of all of these groups.

Our Request for Endorsements

In preparation for the coming Town Meetings, and as a partial answer to those who may be concerned that such an important decision be made by a small group without political accountability, we are asking friends, residents, and lake users to lend their names in support of the following proposition.

We support the Lake Fairlee Association’s proposed milfoil treatment

Eurasian Milfoil is a non-native, aggressively invasive plant species which has now spread to more than 25% of the waters near the shore of Lake Fairlee.  It rapidly crowds out native plants, reduces biodiversity, and diminishes fish habitats. It threatens to render shoreline areas of the lake unusable for swimming and boating. It has exceeded our ability to control it by conventional means.

There is an herbicide, triclopyr, that has been used safely and effectively in other lakes with similar problems, including neighboring Lake Morey.  The State of Vermont has determined that there is negligible risk to public health if the treatment is done correctly.  Although it is man-made chemical, triclopyr acts as a focused metabolic inhibitor and has not been shown to alter the ecology of complex biologic systems such as our lake.  The Lake Fairlee Association has made application to the State Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to treat our lake with triclopyr next June.

We believe that this is a necessary and prudent step.  Although as a rule we oppose putting foreign substances in the lake, this intervention is reasonable and is warranted by the circumstances.  Therefore we support and endorse the decision to use this treatment.  At the same time, we urge that other means continue to be explored, and that traditional methods be used wherever appropriate, with the goal of minimizing the amount of herbicide used.

If you support this decision, please email your name and zipcode to

Herbicide Permit Application Filed

Working with Lycott Environental, our consultant, we have completed our application for a permit to use the herbicide triclopyr in Lake Fairlee early next June. On December 1st we filed it with the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

You can download a copy HERE.  It is a hefty 75 pages, but a significant portion is duplication of information available elsewhere.  In the interests of the environment, you might want to print less than the whole thing.  Pages 4-7 are the application questionaire, and pages 38-55 contain the “meat” of how the planned herbicide application will be conducted, and what it will cost.

The application process includes actual notice to the abutting landowners, the downstream landowners, and the three surrounding towns.  There will be a period for public comments, and an opportunity for public hearings.  We will try to publicize this process at every step along the way.

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Toby made compost out of milfoil last summer

Toby made compost out of milfoil last summer

Report on Public Meeting October 14th

About 40 people attended our meeting at the West Fairlee Community Center.  Many of them had attended one of the prior meetings, but there were several new faces as well.  We held the meeting to discuss the Aquatic Vegetation Report prepared by Lycott Environmental at our request.

Lycott was represented by Lee Lyman, the principal, and Will Stevenson.  Lyman explained his forty plus years working first as a pesticide researcher then as a lake and pond manager. [more here] He spoke briefly about the survey his firm had undertaken at our request, noting that scientists had visited the lake three times this summer to observe and collect data.  He explained a little about the sampling methodology and how the sampling locations were chosen.  Stevenson discussed the “rake toss” method of sampling aquatic plants, and spoke to why sometimes no milfoil showed up at a location where residents know it is present.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Aquatic Vegetation Report prepared by Lycott Environmental, Inc.  Some of the questions that followed addressed this specific topic, but many more related more generally to the issue of the safety of the proposed herbicide treatment, the details of the permit process, and the way the proposed introduction of chemicals into the lake would proceed.  Two environmental scientists from the Vermont DEC were in attendance, and answered questions about the permit requirements and the application process.  Several times they referred to the language of Lake Morey’s herbicide permit as a source of authoritative information on these subjects, so we have attempted to summarize this document here.

There were many questions about the safety of triclopyr for humans and pets.  The scientists from both Lycott and the State explained that the concentration of the chemical once introduced in the lake would be only a few parts per million, and that it breaks down quickly in water.  They spoke about the layers of testing and research trials that an herbicide had to survive first to be licensed by the EPA and then to be found acceptable to the Vermont Department of Health.  Suzy Kerr, President of the Lake Fairlee Association, reported that all five MD’s who live around the lake support our decision to use a herbicide.

The question of how far downstream of our lake might be affected was raised.  It was noted that Lake Morey’s permit required notice, testing, and use  restrictions down to where the outflow passes under Route 5, less than a mile.  Susan Brittin, from the DEC, suggested that this determination is made by the State on a case by case basis, and that we might have to go two or three miles, but certainly not down to the Connecticut River.

One property owner asked about the possibility of contamination of water from his well, which is located close to the lake, and is not deep.  It was explained that groundwater flows downhill towards the lake, and that hydrostatic pressure would keep lakewater from contaminating his well — unless the lake level somehow would rise a couple of feet.

Doug Sonsalla, a member of the West Fairlee Selectboard, asked what his town’s part in the application process should be?  Skip Brown replied that The Town of Thetford’s Selectboard had asked the same question, and he had given it some thought.  The State will accept a permit application from either a town or a lake association.  Because Lake Fairlee is abutted by three towns and there is no other entity ready to step forward, the Lake Fairlee Association is the logical applicant.  He said that if West Fairlee or one of the other towns wanted to join in the application or take it over he would be more than willing.  Answering whether the question of herbicides should be put to a democratic vote, Brown suggested that the votes of each town at their town meetings for or against continuing funding for Lake Fairlee’s milfoil program could provide that opportunity.

There was discussion of just who must be notified prior to the actual treatment.  A prescribed informational notice must be mailed to property owners adjoining the lake and downstream.  The same notice will be mailed to parents of children attending summer camps on the lake.  There will be signs posted around the lake (and downstream) every 1000 feet.

The question was raised just who decides whether the herbicide can be used.  There was discussion about the permit application process, the notice and period for comment, and the possibility of appeals.  Although the proposal has to be developed by the consultant and the application filed by the applicant town or lake association, the ultimate authority rests with the State.  The Department of Environmental Conservation, in consultation with the Department of Health and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, has to make a determination of the necessity and safety for the treatment to go ahead.

This meeting does not end the process, but many questions were answered and all left with greater understanding.  Members of the Association will be meeting with Lycott to hear their recommendation for a treatment plan.  We will share this information here, and will use it as the basis for a permit application to the State.  We will be making additional presentations to the Conservation Commissions and the Selectboards of the three adjoining towns.  We are trying to keep this process as open as possible so that no one will be surprised.  Please feel free to contact us with questions of concerns.

The Permit Application Process

Frequently when scientists from the State are asked questions about chemical treatment of our lake they suggest that we look to Lake Morey’s aquatic herbicide permit for guidance.  This document is available on the Department of Conservation’s website, and we have previously provided a link to it on this blog. Because it is 34 pages long and may seem daunting, we will try to summarize the parts of it that might apply to Lake Fairlee’s permit process.

Lake Morey’s Herbicide Permit

There are two sections to the document.  The first 9 pages contain the actual terms of the permit,  There are 36 sections and numerous subsections spelling out the requirements under which the herbicide application may proceed.  Among many other terms are included

  • Specifications about the herbicide to be used
  • Instructions for the disposal of surplus herbicide and containers
  • Detailed instructions to ensure actual notice of abutting and downstream landowners
  • Requirements for posting signs every 1000 feet around the lake
  • Who may actually put the herbicide in the lake
  • A requirement that all benthic barriers be removed from treated areas
  • Restrictions on swimming/boating/fishing for two days
  • Restrictions on use of lake water for irrigation for up to 120 days
  • Frequent water sampling and testing
  • Reporting requirements

The second section is called Findings.  It enumerates the conclusions that the Department of Environmental Conservation has come to that provide the legal justification for the issuance of the permit.  There are five ‘findings’ that they have to determine in the alternative before a chemical permit can be issued.

1.  There is no reasonable non-chemical alternative.  Here they enumerate the various milfoil control methods and explain why each is ineffective or inappropriate in this situation.

2.  There is acceptable risk to non-target environment.  Here exhaustive evidence is presented to explain how and why triclopyr will not adversely affect other plant or animal species.  This section is nine pages long, and relies on Vermont’s growing body of experience with chemical control methods, including tables of data from Lake Morey itself.  Its primary concern is that other plant species in the lake do not suffer as the result of our actions.  It talks about the timing of the treatment and the concentration of chemical to be used.  It also addresses specific concerns raised by VT Department of Fish and Wildlife about toxicity to fish eggs that might be in the targeted areas.

3.  There is negligible risk to public health.   This section is the result of the Department of Health’s review of the proposed treatment.  It prescribes many of the restrictions that find their way into the requirements of the first section of the permit, like how far downstream must be placarded and tested, and when various water uses may resume.  It concludes that if all of the restrictions are met, there will be negligible risk to public health.

4.  A long range management plan has been developed which incorporates a schedule of pesticide minimization.  Here the state seems to be concerned that the chemical treatment is an integrated part of a macro health plan for the lake.  In particular, they want a five year plan that employs non-chemical measures where they can be effective.

5.  There is a public benefit to be achieved from the application of the pesticide.   This section seems to be a recitation of the environmental and economic harm done by milfoil that the proposed treatment will alleviate.

Our Comments

The State of Vermont is very strict in its regulation of pesticides.  There seems to be quite a lot of requirements and restrictions built into the process.  While we are not glad for the amount of work  to complete the application, we support the State’s generally restrictive attitude towards chemicals.  We cannot be sure how nearly Lake Fairlee will track Lake’s Morey’s process.  Nonetheless we are grateful for their proximity and their similarity.  As we proceed in the process we will learn more, and will share it with you here.

Consultant’s Report Now Available

Click here to download report

Click above to download report

The Lake Fairlee Association Board has received the Aquatic Vegetation Report prepared by Lycott Environmental, Inc., and has begun to discuss its implications.  This report will be the subject of our third public meeting, to be held on Wednesday, October 14th. (details here)  You can download the whole report HERE.  It is a pdf file and is eighteen pages long.  We invite you to read it so that you will better understand our deliberations.

This report is the result of several surveys of the lake conducted this summer.  It includes scientifically collected data from over 200 locations around the lake, including the kinds and density of various species, and particularly of Eurasian milfoil.   It concludes that “approximately 120 acres, or about 26% of the lake’s surface area is infested” with Eurasian milfoil.

What this report does NOT include are recommendations about what we should do.  In private conversations the consultant has said that our lake is a good candidate for herbicide treatment.  But the decision is ours.  If we decide to apply for a permit for next summer the details of our proposal will be hammered out with the State regulators.  We will be continuing to explore this possibility, gathering information about what the treatment would consist of, how long it might take, and what it would cost.

Please read the report and come to one of our public meetings.  The lake may be “owned” by the State of Vermont, but it is our lake, and it needs our care.

Consultant’s Report Received

Lycott Environmental, Inc., has prepared a report of the comprehensive survey of Lake Fairlee they conducted at our request.   The report, titled Aquatic Vegetation Report for Lake Fairlee, details the methods and results of two days of surveys, during which they cataloged the aquatic flora at 206 randomly selected locations in the lake.

This report is an important step towards our possible request for a permit to use an herbicide in the lake next summer to kill the milfoil.  It also promises to replace our rough estimates of the extent of milfoil’s spread with actual numbers.  As soon as the LFA board has had an opportunity to receive and review it I hope to make it available to you here.

Meanwhile, here is a photo of this years spectacular fall colors around our lake.img_6564-2

This is the hill in back of old Camp Norway.