AUGUSTA — After decades dealing with car manufacturers and buyers, John Blouin is bringing his business acumen to a group more likely to use boats.

Blouin, 55, of Manchester, is the new executive director of the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed. Blouin replaces Ken Smith, who held the job about 18 months before taking a position in Orono.

Helping Blouin adjust to the group is Tamara Whitmore, 41, of Gardiner, who’s been with the group for six years as director of education and outreach and is now also program director.

Blouin stepped down as a board member of the group to take the job.

“I’m abandoning cars for the watershed,” he said, adding that he has always shared the passion and enthusiasm for maintaining the water quality in the surrounding lakes and streams.

Blouin most recently ran John Blouin Auto Sales in Augusta and before that was president of Blouin Motors for 28 years.

He is no stranger to the waterways, growing up on the Manchester Bay area of Cobbossee, where his mother still owns a home.

Blouin said he strongly supports the group’s mission “to protect and improve the 28 lakes and streams in the Cobbossee Watershed.”

This is the season when most people begin to spot the work being done by the group.

High visibility efforts include sailings of the Otter II, which cruises local lakes and ponds to educate shoreland owners and sell ice cream over the side, and a specially fitted pontoon boat, known as the DASH unit, for Diver-Assisted Suction Harvesting.

The boat sucks up non-native invasive milfoil plants after they’re pulled up by divers.

Blouin comes aboard in time to help when the milfoil battle begins in June. He said the DASH unit is fully operational and ready to go this season.

“You don’t just buy a DASH unit off a lot,” Blouin said. “It’s a learning experience.”

Whitmore, who has a master’s of science in environmental studies, said the state Department of Environmental Protection regulates the removal of milfoil, requiring that any infestation be mapped and then a permit obtained to remove the nonnative plants.

“We’re not talking about pulling weeds out of the garden,” Whitmore said. “Any small piece can reproduce.”

The group is using benthic barriers — essentially layers of black plastic laid on the streambed that block sunlight from reaching plants — to combat a variable leaf milfoil infestation in a portion of Purgatory Stream in Litchfield.

Because the milfoil appears to be contained in such a small area, “We have the ability to potentially eradicate it from the stream,” Whitmore said.

Other programs include courtesy boat inspections at boat launches on seven separate lakes and ponds. The inspectors — generally high school or college students — look for the presence of invasive plant species on boats being launched or removed from those waters.

The aim is to stop the spread of those plants to other water bodies.

Then there’s the two-week-long summer day camp held at the state YMCA camp in East Winthrop, and Tadpole Patrols, where children go out on the various lakes.

Summer staff includes Jay Lindsey, a Winthrop High School science teacher, who directs the “Slow the Flow” program to stop polluted storm water runoff from reaching the water bodies. Those efforts include putting in special plants, installing rip-rap and providing property owners with information about what they can do.

With an office on Sewall Street in Augusta and a website at www.watershedfriends.com, the Friends group brought in revenue of $320,206 in 2011, as well as in-kind donated services.

“I’m just amazed at the volunteering people do,” Blouin said. He said part of his efforts will be aimed at getting more of the people on the 28 lakes and steams in the watershed engaged with the group.

“There are a lot of people where the water quality is a real economic investment,” Blouin said.

The group claims 7,000 members, and membership is free.

Among its high profile fundraisers are Friends on the Fourth, a July 4 road race that last year attracted 560 runners; Spotters Sprint, a canoe and kayak paddle in August; and an annual waterside cocktail party.

The group also works in conjunction with the Cobbossee Watershed District, which monitors lake quality and levels, and the Kennebec County Soil & Water District.

More information on the group is on its website, www.watershedfriends.com.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]


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