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Town seeks $100G for weed removal at Black Lake

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The town of Oswegatchie has applied for a $100,000 grant from the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency for invasive weed eradication at Black Lake.

If the town is approved for the funding request, the money will be split evenly between supplementing $50,000 already available for weed removal and a revolving loan fund to help property owners repair or replace their home and summer camp septic systems.

The funding selections will be announced in April. If the town is approved, weed suction and removal of the vegetation by divers as well as septic system improvements could begin by summer.

Last year, State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, secured $50,000 from the state budget to aid in eradicating the 7,761-acre lake of the Eurasian watermilfoil weeds that have grown fast and aggressively in the lake’s shallow waters. The weeds also have crowded nearby vegetation and killed food sources for fish. In addition, weeds get tangled in boat propellers and damage the vessels’ motors.

“It’s horrible,” said Dawn C. Howard, conservation district manager for the St. Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Long term, Mrs. Howard added, it will cost millions of dollars and take years to solve the weed problem at Black Lake. Funding sources at federal, state and local levels are uncertain at best in a budget-cutting era.

“It’s going to be a very, very expensive project,” she said.

An estimated 40 Black Lake property owners have expressed interest in the revolving loan fund, which would make available $10,000 to five of them at a time.

The septic system troubles, where they exist, are tied to the weeds’ consistently rapid growth because wastewater is rich in nutrients like phosphorous that the vegetation feeds and thrives on. Older systems, according to Mrs. Howard, tend to leak raw effluent into the groundwater, finding its way to the lake and the weeds.

Properly working septic systems, on the other hand, do a better job of separating liquids from the fats and solids of waste, sending it through the soil via leachate lines. Along the way, the nutrients dissipate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just finished a months-long study of the weed infestation problem and its findings will be released soon, Mrs. Howard said.

The report will include a collection of data points and make recommendations for further work that includes enforcement of sewage codes and education for area farmers about how best to manage fertilizer and manure runoff.

The 20-mile-long lake is the largest lake in St. Lawrence County.

The lake’s invasive weed dilemma also casts a potential cloud over its status as a tourist attraction. According to the local Black Lake Invasive Weed Committee, the lake is the top tourist destination in the county. It is estimated that every year, $7 million to $10 million enters the local economy from spending by people who visit the lake.

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