AP NEWS

Candlewood plan to scrub invasives off boats could start

March 29, 2019

For four years officials around Candlewood Lake have wanted to start a program inspecting and cleaning boats to prevent the spread of destructive invasive species.

But without set funding or a specific site, the program has stagnated.

The Candlewood Lake Authority is hoping to change that and has been surveying the lake for a feasible option. A possible partnership with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection could make the plan a reality this year.

“We’re working toward it,” said Mark Howarth, the authority’s executive director.

Once implemented, this could become the first program of its kind in the state.

“We have a good working relationship with CLA over the years and we want to continue that,” said Michael Lambert, DEEP’s bureau chief for outdoor recreation. “If we can make this happen, we will.”

Under the voluntary program, staff members would inspect the boats and then thoroughly wash them if something is found, which takes about 20 minutes.

Howarth said the program will not only prevent the spread of invasive species by removing any that are lingering on a boat, but would also increase awareness about the need to clean, drain and dry a boat that travels between different bodies of water.

Candlewood Lake already has Eurasian watermilfoil, but officials are striving to keep out invasive species from nearby waterways, such as water chestnut, zebra mussels and hydrilla.

Brookfield purchased a self-contained decontamination unit, which resembles a high-pressure power washer with filters, for $25,000 in 2015. The town never took on the full program, though, because Steve Dunn replaced Bill Tinsley, who championed the program, as first selectmen and said it was too expensive for only Brookfield to assume the costs to staff it.

He has said the program should be shared by all five lake towns.

In the meantime, the lake authority and the DEEP continue to encourage people to clean, drain and dry their boats.

Location

Finding a place to house and run the program has been a major obstacle.

Last year, it seemed like the authority might be able to station it at the Kohl’s in Brookfield, but that fell through because of liability concerns as the request moved up the ladder.

Howarth suspected that might be the case with any private site and said a state or municipal site might be best.

Officials from Candlewood Lake Authority and DEEP met late last year and in February to discuss the possibility of using the Squantz Cove boat launch in New Fairfield, Lambert said.

He said they’re still discussing options with the department’s parks and boating divisions.

“Ultimately, it would be great to have something in place by the summer if we can make this happen,” he said.

Lambert said the program would expand on the awareness the department is already doing about invasive species and would be an educational benefit.

Howarth said the state site would be a great option.

“It would be great to get it as close to the lake as possible,” he said.

Howarth said the town launches are challenging because the configuration or size might not allow for a vehicle, trailer and boat to pull up to the unit.

“A lot of times on a busy weekend, these lots fill up with cars and trailers,” he said.

Costs

The total cost of the program and how to pay for it are also still outliers and contend largely on when it would start, how often it would run.

The bulk of the expense would most likely cover the salaries, but could also go toward one-time expenses, he said.

Candlewood Lake Authority Chairwoman Phyllis Schaer hopes future funding would be available through a program that would charge Connecticut residents $5 and and out-of-state residents $25 for a vessel stamp. This money would then be used for programs to combat invasive species.

The stamp fund is set out in House Bill 6637, which is co-sponsored by several Candlewood Lake legislators, including state Sen. Julie Kushner, state Rep. Ken Gucker and state Rep. David Arconti Jr.

“Boating, swimming, fishing and home values are all affected by invasive species,” Kushner said in a press release. “We have to create a reliable, independent source of funding to combat this problem ...”

The stamp program wouldn’t go into effect though until Oct. 1 if it is passed this legislative session. The bill now heads to the state House where it can either be referred to another committee, voted on or die.

Other programs

A key model has been the one in Lake George, N.Y. Candlewood Lake officials even visited the lake a few years ago to learn about it.

The Lake George Association started the program in 2008 and oversaw it until 2013. During that time lake stewards inspected more than 32,000 boats from more than 150 different bodies of water, removed 490 aquatic invasive species samples from boats and educated more than 75,000 boaters about invasive species spread prevention, according to the program’s summary.

No new invasive species were discovered at Lake George since the inspections became mandatory. In the past five years, more than 8,000 boats were decontaminated because they didn’t meet the standard “clean, drained and dry,” according to a 2018 report.

There are seven units that are staffed every day from May 1 to Oct. 31. This adds up to about $535,500 to run the Lake George program, which is split between the state of New York, municipalities around the lake, the Lake George Association and the Fund for Lake George.

Howarth said the Lake George program has been very successful, but it and the lake itself are much larger than Candlewood.

Lake George is about 44 square miles, while Candlewood is about 8.5 square miles.

“It’s a different animal in Lake George,” he said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345