Chester Considers Ban on Trailers, Combustion Engines on Cedar Lake
Hydrilla is shown clogging Selden Cove in August. (Photo by Humphrey Tyler )
Hydrilla in Salmon Cove in July 2019. (Photo by Margot Burns )
The Chester Board of Selectmen (BOS) is considering a ban on trailers and combustion engines on Cedar Lake, due to concerns related to aquatic invasive plant species.
Aquatic invasive species are often transported from one body of water to another by trailers and when motorboats are flushed, depositing water from the previous waterway into the new one, according to Tom Brelsford, chair of the Cedar Lake Watershed Commission.
These plants can also be transported via other watercraft such as kayaks and canoes.
The Cedar Lake Watershed Commission brought the issue to the BOS earlier this year, when the commission proposed an amendment to an existing ordinance on the use of Cedar Lake.
No action was taken on it due to a suspension of in-person meetings as a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amendment to the ordinance would ban trailers and combustion engines and require that prior to the launch of any watercraft vessel, the vessel be free of aquatic vegetation.
The draft amendment to the ordinance and threat of invasive plants species was discussed at a Sept. 9 BOS meeting, with several environmental and town officials in attendance. No action was taken on the ordinance at the meeting.
“As stewards of the lake…we felt it was very important to get this issue out there to make town government and our townspeople aware of it, what the threat was,” said Brelsford. “We also felt the best thing to do to start was offer a draft of an ordinance to prohibit what we feel is the biggest threat for introducing these species to the lake and that’s boat trailers and motorboats.”
The Town of Chester owns the 80-acre lake, which is a popular recreational fishing spot for boaters, and about one third of its shoreline.
Other portions of the shoreline are owned by Camp Hazen YMCA, private residences, and the state, including a boat launch operated by the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Although the town has a maintenance plan that includes the hydro-raking of invasive plant species already present in the lake, the ban would serve to help prevent the entry of additional ones such as water chestnut and hydrilla. The town does not currently use herbicides to treat invasive aquatic plant species.
Brelsford discussed water chestnut and hydrilla as two species of concern.
“They are both bad plants,” said Brelsford. “They are both non-native species and they potentially both will affect recreation, wildlife, fisheries, and even water quality adversely.”
Margot Burns, an environmental planner for the lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (RiverCOG), pointed to the ability of hydrilla to diffuse rapidly, sometimes by just having several leaves enter a body of water.
“The interesting thing about hydrilla and what makes it so feared is that it does reproduce in just about any kind of way that you can think of a plant reproducing…It spreads like wildfire,” said Burns, who has worked extensively to survey areas along the Connecticut River for invasive plant species.
Brelsford reported that he had not found the hydrilla plant in his most recent survey of the lake. If an infestation of hydrilla were to occur, the Town of Chester, as owner of the lake, would be responsible for mitigation.
First Selectman Lauren Gister pointed to Coventry as an example of a town dealing with the costly issue of aquatic invasive species. Hydrilla was found in Coventry Lake in 2015. That town now spends more than $100,000 each year on herbicide treatments, which is expected to continue for the next 6 to 10 years.
The threat of these plants entering Cedar Lake is heightened by the presence of several different species of aquatic invasive plants, including hydrilla, in nearby waterways.
A survey of invasive aquatic vegetation in the lower Connecticut River Valley, which was completed by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in 2019, confirmed the presence of hydrilla in the lower Connecticut River and Chester’s marinas.
Brelsford said it’s already affecting local businesses at the marina.
“They actually had people leave the marina and go to other marinas for dockage because they simply couldn’t get their boats in and out of their slips through the hydrilla,” said Brelsford.
Burns said that in her work this past summer to survey water chestnut, hydrilla was present “in Chester Creek. It’s now up past the 154 bridge and so I think we do have a lot of concern about it getting into our other lakes and waterbodies.
“So, I think it’s, from RiverCOG’s standpoint, something that we really need to be aware of and support, I think, some initiatives like this until we get the research done that is needed, which is starting to happen,” said Burns.
The Chester selectmen plan to put the ordinance back on the agenda for their next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 23.