WEST COPAKE—Camp Pontiac wants to use herbicides to kill weeds in Lower Rhoda Pond, but camp neighbors who share the pond think it’s a bad idea.
Camp Pontiac at 2044 County Route 7 is a sleep-away summer camp that accommodates about 275 boys and 275 girls from ages 6 to 17. In addition to a full array of sports and other land-based activities, it offers swimming, boating, fishing and a water park in Lower Rhoda Pond.
The camp owns about seven acres of the 60-acre pond, according to the application. The pond spans the Copake/ Ancram town line and flows into Long Lake in Ancram.
A brief description of the proposed action in the application says, “The area that the camp owns is overgrown with Water Lilies, Algae and Coontail during the summer months. The camp has invested money into other management approaches… At this time the camp has exhausted all other management programs to remove the nuisance aquatic vegetations that impede the use of the water for recreational purposes. The camp is proposing to utilize Navigate, Nautique and Copper Sulfate to manage the aquatic plants that are infesting the water body.”
Camp Pontiac co-owner Ken Etra signed the 206-page application along with Mark Roland, the president of the firm Mr. Etra hired to do the application, Limnology Information & Freshwater Ecology Inc. (LIFE) in Hopewell Junction.
Mr. Roland sent a letter to landowners around Lower Rhoda informing them of the camp’s intentions to apply herbicides and algaecides “for the excessive overgrowth of Spatterdock (Water Lilies); Coontail, and Chara Algae.”
Mr. Roland said in the letter he anticipates the application to occur from May through August once the permit is obtained and that yellow signs with the exact dates of application will be posted around the shoreline.
He also supplied the water use restrictions that accompany each product. Navigate has the most severe restrictions, including a 24-hour ban on swimming and bathing, animal livestock watering, fishing for consumption and no irrigation or spraying of agricultural crops or use of potable water/use for domestic purposes for seven days after application.
Lower Rhoda Pond is in a New York State-Regulated Freshwater Wetland and the project site is located over, or immediately adjoins, a primary, principal or sole source aquifer, according to the application.
Camp Pontiac has applied to the DEC before in recent years for permission to use herbicides in Lower Rhoda, but withdrew its 2013 pesticide application after other pond property owners offered to help manually remove aquatic plants.
Residents who live near Lower Rhoda have mounted an effort in opposition to the new application, sending letters to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Pesticides citing studies of the effects of the chemicals proposed for use.
M. Bradford Stein wrote to say his family, including six- and nine-year-old grandchildren, swim and boat in the pond continuously in warm months. “More importantly, our household water, which we use for all purposes including drinking water, comes from our shallow well located only 15-20 feet from the shore of the pond and is only 6 feet deep. The installer of this ‘driven point’ well told us that we would essentially be using lake water.”
Mr. Stein said he fears that chemical herbicides and algaecides would poison his well. “We have no confidence in manufacturers’ claims of safe use; even the enclosed letter admits that we could not use our well for at least 7 days after each application of chemicals.”
He also waters his vegetable garden with water directly from the pond.
Suzanne Eytel, president of the Lower Rhoda Lake Association (LRLA), a non-profit organization formed to steward the health and welfare of Lower Rhoda Pond in Ancram, wrote that there is a pair of bald eagles living on the pond near Camp Pontiac. The eagles are attacking the Canada geese that she said “have undoubtedly contributed greatly to the weed problem. Administering herbicides will bioaccumulate in the fish they eat, and will otherwise generally pose a significant risk to the eagles, in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”
Ms. Eytel said that the LRLA hopes the DEC won’t grant a permit “for poisoning the eagles and/or their food supply and habitat at our pond” and that DEC would work with the environmental group to create a management plan that includes non-toxic methods that have “already proven quite successful in other sections of the pond against the very weeds the Camp seeks to eradicate.”
In June 2013 after Camp Pontiac’s last try at getting a herbicide application permit, LRLA adopted a lake management plan that evaluated the plant community, the ecosystem and the cause of the problem. The consultant hired by the LRLA, Berkshire Environmental Research Center (BERC) determined that chemical herbicides “treat the symptoms not the cause.”
BERC prepared a lake management plan, and conducted water testing from 2013 through 2015 and made several recommendations, one of which was the use of benthic mats, which members of the lake community bought and “which worked amazingly well in completely suppressing the Chara in areas where used correctly.”
BERC concluded that “The continued use of mats is in our view not a scientific question but is up to the individuals employing them.”
Ms. Eytel also said that, “Volunteers have also hand harvested water chestnut, and we have significantly reduced their numbers over the last five years. We are committed to continuing this every year.”
Jamie Purinton, a Lower Rhoda resident and chair of Ancram’s Conservation Advisory Council wrote: “We swim, fish and use the lake water for our organic orchard and garden. Like others on this lake, our drinking water comes from a shallow point well that is directly connected to Lower Rhoda Lake.”
She cites BERC’s water testing results which found “nitrogen and phosphorous loading in our lake and how this causes weed growth. Camp Pontiac has historically been the main contributor of lake eutrophication; so we ask that DEC start by addressing the cause of the problem. We need Camp Pontiac to implement best management practices, restore non-permitted prior removal of shoreline buffers, meet building setbacks and maintain up-to-date septic systems.”
Members of the Lower Rhoda community also approached the Ancram Town Board in March, seeking its support in asking DEC to conduct a public hearing on the issue before coming to a decision. The board obliged by sending DEC a letter in which Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin noted that the board “passed a resolution in support of the Lower Rhoda Lake Association’s request for a public hearing on this application.” Mr. Bassin also offered the Town Hall as a place to conduct the hearing when a date is set.
Rick Georgeson, spokesman for the DEC said this week that the DEC is in the early stages of evaluating Camp Pontiac’s application and said no public hearing is planned. He said the Department of Fisheries and the County Health Department will also weigh in on the project. He noted that the pesticides in question have been approved for use in New York State and have undergone “exhaustive environmental review.” The concerns of neighbors who would experience “a significant adverse impact on their property” will be taken into account, he said.
Mr. Georgeson said that if a permit is issued those who oppose it can challenge it in court. If the permit is denied that would automatically trigger a public hearing.
Reached by email for comment, Mr. Roland, the pesticide applicator, said he would prefer to speak about the matter by phone later in the day. When told that was not possible due to deadline constraints he said, “You are not allowing me to comment.”
To contact Diane Valden email