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Residents and members of the newly formed Candlewood Voices group gathered outside last Thursday’s Board of Selectman meeting in opposition to the proposed use of chemicals in Candlewood Lake.

NEW FAIRFIELD – A group of concerned residents braved the cold prior to last Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting to protest the possible dumping of chemical herbicides and algaecides into Candlewood Lake. Alongside Route 37, the group brandished signs with slogans such as “Carp Power”, “No Pesticides”, and “Don’t Mess With Our Water”, as passing motorists honked in support.

The rally was organized by Carolyn Rowan and Candlewood Voices, a new group of individuals who love the lake and are opposed to the use of chemicals to fight invasive Eurasian milfoil, according to Ms. Rowan, who went on to state the rally was organized because residents “want to have a voice. We want to be asked. We want communication.”

The protest stems from a proposal put forth by the Board of Selectmen to treat the Eurasian milfoil outbreak in Candlewood Lake with the herbicide Diquat and to combat blue-green algae blooms with a copper sulfate algaecide. At a public hearing on October 13, 2016 the Board requested the appropriation of $30,000 to the “Cap & Non” budget line under the designation of “Lake Studies”. This was part of the proposed application of a budget surplus for fiscal year 2015-16 to several different budget line items.

On October 20, 2016, SOLitude Lake Management delivered a proposal to the Town of New Fairfield for a test program to deploy an herbicide containing Diquat. According to the proposal the first test site would consist of 40 to 50 acres and would “extend from Knollcrest Road around Chatterton Point, past the Town Park and then around the northern end of Candlewood Isle.” The second area “is the Shelter Harbor cove, which is approximately 10 acres in size.”

According to the SOLitude proposal, the test treatment was developed to work together with the sterile grass carp program initiated in 2015 by the Candlewood Lake Authority (CLA) and the five towns with shorelines on Candlewood Lake—New Fairfield, Sherman, Danbury, New Milford and Brookfield.

The first objective of SOLitude’s proposal is to “use aquatic herbicides to control Eurasian watermilfoil and evaluate if the triploid grass carp will then preferentially graze on milfoil regrowth, as compared to the more mature old growth milfoil found in untreated sections of the lake.”

This has brought about a negative response from many residents, particularly those living on or near the lakeshore. The primary concern is due to the use of chemicals. Although a number of experts have stated that the risks of Diquat are minimal, the views of many are that any risk is unacceptable. The other major objection posed by residents is the perceived lack of transparency in the process by the Board of Selectmen and the Board’s apparent unwillingness to work with the CLA and the four neighboring towns.

An informational hearing held March 2 at Meeting House Hill School was viewed by many residents as too little, too late. At that meeting, representatives from SOLitude, the CLA and the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) were on hand to discuss the proposal (see here)

According to Candlewood Lake resident Bob Stryker the process was done “ass-backwards”. In his opinion, there should have been an informational hearing first, then a public hearing to approve the project and appropriate funds, and a bid process to pick a management company.

At the start of that evening’s Board of Selectman meeting, First Selectman Susan Chapman stated that as of yet, the Town had not signed a contract with SOLitude, nor had is submitted an application with DEEP to deploy chemicals in Candlewood Lake. She also stated that as a result of the informational hearing, subsequent conversations took place that caused DEEP to reevaluate and increase the number of grass carp to be released into both Candlewood Lake and Squantz Pond this year.

When asked her thoughts on the protest, Ms. Chapman said that she was fine with it. “It’s everybody’s right to express their opinion,” she said.

As for the proposal process itself, Ms. Chapman said that DEEP did not require a public hearing, but that the Board of Selectmen initiated one to solicit input from the public. She also said that while some might question the sequence of events, the Board is taking the public outcry into consideration.

Ms. Chapman also confirmed that she and the CLA will be meeting with DEEP representatives in Hartford this week to discuss the proposal in light of the increased number of grass carp to be released. She said based on the public reaction and the increased number of carp set to be released into the lake this year, there will be a discussion to “see if we can come up with a different plan, one that everyone can live with.”

By Greg Slomba