Oakland town councilors will be considering whether to become a test site for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to research composting milfoil as an option for disposing of the fast spreading aquatic weed.

The town and other municipalities in the Belgrade lakes region, along with area lake associations, have spent thousands of dollars eradicating milfoil, an invasive aquatic weed that displaces native plants and can leave lakes unsuitable for recreation.

However, once the plants are out of the water, lake associations are not always sure where to put them to ensure that the plants will decompose properly without spreading back into the water.

“Disposal is always a great concern,” said Mark King, environmental specialist with the DEP Division of Sustainability.

At the Town Council meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oakland Town Manager Peter Nielson said councilors will be considering whether to compost milfoil extracted by the Friends of Messalonskee Lake at the town transfer station. The council is not expected to make a decision Wednesday, but if they go forward with the project, Nielson said composting could start next summer.

The DEP could then use data collected from the compost to consider granting compost permits to other lake associations across the state looking to dispose of their milfoil. If the project goes as hoped, King said the data would conclude the high temperatures in the composting process eventually break down the milfoil until it is inviable.

“We would run a series of trials to see if there was any survivability in the milfoil, but it’s not known whether it would be successful,” said King.

The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which has a milfoil program in the lakes region, has faced the problem of how to dispose of thousands of gallons of extracted milfoil. In response to the problem of disposal, the organization started composting the material.

King said he recently heard about the alliance’s composting efforts and said the group is likely doing something that requires a composting permit, which are not being issued yet for milfoil composting. King said the DEP could discuss options with the association to see if the department could incorporate their compost pile with the potential test pile in Oakland.

“People that are removing material from the lake are helping the water quality, so we just want to work with them to make sure they are not causing water quality problems somewhere else,” King said. “The department really wants to be proactive on this because it [milfoil] is such a big problem for the state.”

He said if the department came up with a milfoil compost permit, it would be a simple application so that interested municipalities and lake associations could compost.

Toni Pied, milfoil and stewardship director with the alliance, said originally the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance was composting milfoil removed from lakes with worms, which ate the milfoil and left the weed completely inviable.

But then the association stepped up its efforts in 2012, going from hauling 800 gallons of milfoil the year before to 50,000 gallons out of Great Pond.

“You would need billions of worms with how much we were taking out,” she said.

She said the association then learned that there was land available away from water bodies where they could compost the milfoil.

Because of the amount of milfoil removed in 2012, she said they only removed 28,000 gallons in 2013 with the same level of effort. So far this year, the association has removed 10,000 gallons.

Pied said that in an informal experiment in a test garden plot, plants that received milfoil compost grew better than those that did not.

She said at a landfill, they have no control over the milfoil, and at a composting site, they can monitor the heap as it breaks down into something inviable.

“I think one of the things people worry about is whether it will break down enough so it won’t be viable anymore,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

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