Striped invaders threaten Copake Lake

Zebra mussels on boats at Copake Lake. Photo contributed

COPAKE—Copake Lake is prime real estate for those who love what life in and around the water has to offer.

Now a mob of evil-doers has moved in. Their name is: the zebra mussels gang and they threaten to wreck the place.

Lindsay LeBrecht, speaking on behalf of the Copake Lake Conservation Society (CLCS), came to the January 13 Copake Town Board seeking financial help to fight these trouble-making mollusks.

According to the state Department of Conservation website (www.dec.ny.gov), “Zebra mussels are an invasive, fingernail-sized mollusk native to fresh waters in Eurasia. Their name comes from the dark, zig-zagged stripes on each shell. It is estimated that zebra mussels arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s via ballast water discharged by large ships from Europe. Zebra mussels negatively impact ecosystems in many ways, including filtering out algae that native species need for food and attaching to-and incapacitating-native mussels.” They “disrupt the food chain, change water chemistry, and clog water intake and delivery systems for drinking water, irrigation and hydro power.”

Funds sought by the CLCS would pay for a chemical treatment that targets the striped-shell infiltrators and comes with a $75,000 price tag.

Ms. LeBrecht serves on several CLCS committees and also operates Copake Lake Realty.

The conservation society “is a non-profit organization of volunteers that provides leadership in preserving and maintaining the ecology and water quality of Copake Lake and its watershed,” according to its website (copakelakecs.org).

Ms. LeBrecht told the board that most of the lake shoreline is privately owned, but where the lake meets the corner of Lakeview Road and County Route 7, a small section of the 410-acre lake’s 5.2 miles of shoreline is owned by Columbia County.

“And here is where the problem begins,” she said.

The CLCS communicates with people who live at the lake by newsletter and social media, signs at major entry points warn about zebra mussels and weeds and marinas do “cursory” checks of boats being launched.

But the one place without monitoring is “the county corner,” she said.

When CLCS consultants did their first on-water survey in early 2021 they noticed a small amount of zebra mussels at the county corner, said Ms. LeBrecht, but by the end of the season when docks were being pulled out, the population had “exploded to pretty much every corner of the lake.”

In discussing whether Copake Lake is a private or public lake, Ms. LeBrecht said several websites such as the DEC’s and Paddling.com list the availability of a public “cartop launch” at the county corner.

But currently a metal guardrail blocks direct access to the lake and people must lift their watercraft over the rail or squeeze them under. Prior efforts by Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski to get at least a section of the rail removed to allow people to walk through to the lake with their kayaks, canoes, rafts or row boats was met with adamant opposition from the CLCS.


‘Are we setting a precedent here?’

Councilman Jeffrey Judd

Town of Copake


Concluding her presentation, Ms. LeBrecht said it is hoped “that either the town or someone out there can financially help us” to rid the lake of the zebra mussels with the ultimate goal to permanently stop the flow of invasive species into Copake Lake.

Town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler opened discussion on the matter by noting there were a couple of issues involved. The first is whether the board wants to help and the second is whether the board can do anything legally to help.

Town Attorney Jonathan Tingley told the board that “the town is only able to expend money for a purpose that is set forth in [state] statute, so there would have to be a basis in statutory law to authorize an expenditure.” He said a basis would have to be found if the board wanted to proceed in that way.

He said later in the meeting that, generally speaking, with limited exceptions a municipality cannot make a gift. “A donation to a private entity is problematic.”

Councilman Gansowski rattled off a list of waterways within the town that the public does not have access to and recounted his attempt to get access to Copake Lake, which the CLCS “fought tooth and nail.” Now, he said, the board is being asked to give money “to something we can’t even really get a guardrail cut to. I find that a little strange.”

Councilman Jeffrey Judd, who lives at Copake Lake, questioned whether the need for the application of chemicals to deal with zebra mussels will become an annual necessity.

Ms. LeBrecht said if the chemical application is done early enough, the hope is to eradicate the mussels entirely.

Councilman Richard Wolf said that even if the mussels were eradicated something more permanent needs to happen at the county corner “to prevent the re-introduction.” He said there “needs to be contemporaneous thought about a solution that goes past this, otherwise it’s likely to come back.”

Ms. LeBrecht said in response to a question, that the Copake Lake Association does have a bulletin board at the corner with information about zebra mussels, but that more needs to be done.

Councilman Judd noted that if the town is able to help Copake Lake financially, then what happens when there is a similar problem at some other lake or pond. “Are we setting a precedent here?”

In exploring alternative solutions, Attorney Tingley said if there were property at the corner that the town wanted for access or a park, perhaps the town could purchase it and the money could, in theory, be used to fund the zebra mussel project. He said in that case the town would be getting something for its money.

Given past controversy over issues at the corner and now the suspicion that zebra mussels were brought into the lake via the corner, Supervisor Mettler questioned whether Copake Lake residents were opposed to allowing greater public access or not.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Ms. Mettler said she was not hearing a clear message from board members about where they stand.

She asked the town attorney to research what legal options the town has and come back next month for a continuation of the discussion.

The Town Board’s next meeting is February 10 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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