By NIKKI YOUNK
IRON RIVER - It was standing room only at the Iron River City Hall on Wednesday as State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, led a town hall meeting on the subject of aquatic invasive species, with an emphasis on Eurasian milfoil.
Nikki Younk/Daily News Photo
Lisa Huberty of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s aquatic nuisance control program inspects milfoil plants that she harvested from Chicagon Lake on Wednesday. Chicagon Lake, which is located mostly in Iron County’s Stambaugh Township, is one of many local lakes that have a problem with invasive species such as milfoil.
In attendance were Lisa Huberty of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) aquatic nuisance control program; State Representative Scott Dianda, D-Calumet; members of the Iron and Dickinson county boards; township officials; and members of several different lake associations.
Casperson explained that he is working on state legislation that will streamline the process of obtaining DEQ permits for chemical milfoil treatments.
Proposed changes to the current laws include:
- Issuing three-year permits instead of one-year permits.
- Allowing a permit fee discount in the third year in order to encourage success.
- Allowing permit applications and fees to be submitted electronically.
- Ensuring that the DEQ can process permits year-round.
- Requiring the DEQ to keep a database of all milfoil-affected waters so they do not need to be reviewed each year.
In addition, Casperson's legislation would allow local governments to exercise more control in obtaining funding for the prevention and treatment of milfoil.
Local governments would be able to adopt ordinances to collect fees for control efforts, as long as not more than five percent of funds go toward administrative costs and the DEQ verifies that the body of water in question is indeed infested with milfoil.
Casperson said that he would also like to see the state offer grant funding for milfoil treatments.
"I'm hearing a lot of, 'What is the state doing to contribute?'," he said. "Lake property owners are already paying a lot."
According to Casperson, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trust Fund could be a viable source of grant money, but using those funds would require statutory and constitutional changes.
Audience members voiced some concerns.
One person pointed out that Casperson's legislation focuses on treatment, not prevention of milfoil.
Casperson suggested that perhaps money could also be put toward boat washes and signage advising boaters to not transport milfoil from lake to lake.
Another person asked if a sliding scale could be used to determine how much money lake associations should pay for permits and treatment, as some associations have more members than others.
Casperson felt that he should take one step at a time and focus on getting state funding in the first place.
Others were upset at the cost of DEQ permits in general.
Casperson explained that the DEQ relies on permit fees for its own funding.
"The state should help," he added. "I'd rather you put money into the chemical treatments instead of permits."
For a DEQ perspective on the issue, Casperson had Huberty offer some background information on milfoil.
Huberty pointed out that untreated milfoil infestations can cause navigation problems for boats, make waters non-swimmable, and negatively affect native aquatic organisms.
Due to the uncertainty of how quickly milfoil spreads, Huberty recommended that lake associations or local governments carefully survey and monitor the milfoil in their lakes from year to year.
There are currently three ways to treat milfoil infestations: biological methods such as weevils, which eat milfoil; physical methods such as suction harvesting or hand pulling; and chemical methods such as contact herbicides, which kill the tissue they contact, and systemic herbicides, which moves through the plants to kill them.
Huberty noted that all herbicides approved for use in Michigan have to go through both federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Michigan DEQ reviews regarding toxicity, impact on human and animal health, and environmental issues. However, she added that the herbicides must be used according to their labels in order to be safe.
The DEQ issues about 2,500 permits for chemical treatment each year.
Although complete eradication of a milfoil infestation is unlikely, Huberty did offer one local success story. She said that property owners around Duck Lake in Gogebic County having been actively monitoring their milfoil and using chemical and physical methods of treatment for approximately seven years.
"They've done so well, they haven't applied for a chemical permit this year," said Huberty.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.