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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, half of the money will be added to $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. Leaky septic systems have been pinpointed as a possible source of nutrients in the lake that help the invasive Eurasian water milfoil weeds thrive.

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

“As soon as we can get things set up,” said Dawn C. Howard, St. Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation District manager.

Last year, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, secured $50,000 in the state budget to aid in eradicating the invasive weeds on the 7,761-acre lake. The weeds have grown fast and aggressively in its shallow waters, crowding out native vegetation and killing food sources for fish. In addition, weeds get tangled in boat propellers and damage the vessels’ motors.

“It’s horrible,” Mrs. Howard said.

Long term, Mrs. Howard said, 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.

Aging, leaky septic systems contribute to the weeds’ rapid growth because wastewater is rich in nutrients like phosphorous that the vegetation feeds upon. Mrs. Howard said adequately 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 before groundwater reaches the lake.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just finished a months-long study of the weed infestation, 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 educating 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, Black Lake tourism has a $7 million to $10 million impact on the county’s economy.

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