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September 13, 2012

Committee to seek alternative spray


— The Otsego Lake Watershed Supervisory Committee has a chance to find an alternative to the chemical herbicides in use by the New York State Department of Transportation on Route 80 along the western shore of Otsego Lake, according to Watershed Coordinator Win McIntyre.

McIntyre reported the results of a recent meeting between him, Mayor Jeff Katz, Watershed Committee Chair Dr. James LaCava and representatives of the DOT during a Watershed Supervisory Committee meeting last Thursday.

The DOT reviewed its rationale for using the glyphosate-based herbicide, stating that it was more cost-effective and safer than mechanical methods of control like mowing or weed whacking.

  They were concerned about the safety aspects – for them, McIntrye said.

  “It was apparent they were not going to deploy workers with weed whackers,” LaCava said.

  According to the agency, the area is sprayed once a year, usually in late May, and the spray rate is lower than what is allowed. The applicators receive extensive training in the use of the materials and the equipment and do not spray unless weather conditions are appropriate.

“We agreed that their herbicide use was being done responsively, but it was still being done,” McIntyre wrote in an email. “We still felt that the risk to water users along the west side of the lake outweighed the benefits outlined by DOT.”

Otsego Lake is the source of drinking water for Cooperstown and approximately half of the camps on the lake. According to McIntyre, the Environmental Protection Agency has restrictions on the application of glyphosate within one-half mile upstream of a potable water intake.

The use of the glyphosate herbicide threatens the water supply of those camps along Route 80 whose water intakes are less than one-tenth of a mile from Route 80.

  “There are all kinds of opportunities for the herbicide to get into the lake,” McInytre said.

  Local officials attempted to get the DOT to apply the precautionary principle and discontinue the spraying because of the potential for contaminating the lake and water supply.

  McIntyre said alternatives were discussed. One was mowing, but “it was clear that DOT was not in favor of doing that.”

  Another was the use of “green” chemicals in place of the glyphosate herbicide in use and, according to McIntyre, the DOT said they would consider alternative chemicals. One of the DOT representatives commented that there is a research project under way that is studying the use of several “green” herbicides.

  McIntyre said the meeting concluded with an agreement that the Watershed Supervisory Committee will take the lead for investigating and proposing a “green” alternative. With nine months before the next spraying, there should be enough time to find a viable alternative, McIntyre said.

 “We thought the meeting was fairly positive,” he said.

 Committee member Kevin Grady agreed, “It’s better than I expected.”

 Katz also agreed, “It was a productive and substantive meeting. My guess is they don’t see any harm. They don’t see any problem with it because of the way they spray with licensed operators who have received rigorous training, and it is done under the right weather conditions. That is their rationale for saying there is no problem. They’re receptive to change and we have to find a better way forward. It’s not over.”