WINTHROP — Town officials agreed to attend a meeting with towns surrounding Cobbossee Lake to discuss the best way to tackle the growing Eurasian watermilfoil infestation.

The meeting is slated to be led by the CYC Lake Association (formerly known as the Cobbosseecontee Yacht Club) and Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, an organization dedicated to protecting the quality of lakes, ponds and streams in the watershed.

Officials from these groups warned that the plant spreads quickly and can grow inches per day. Once it overtakes a lake, it makes swimming and boating difficult, and also negatively impacts native flora and fauna.

The invasive plant was first discovered in the northeast quadrant of the lake in 2018. An herbicide treatment of ProsellaCOR was applied the following year. The plant was once again discovered during a survey in October 2020, and has continued its spread.

During an Oct. 4 meeting, Toni Pied, director of membership at Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed (FCW), gave members of the Winthrop Town Council an overview of the situation.

“Eurasian watermilfoil can grow really fast,” she said. “It spreads easily and fragments. It does this naturally — but propellers, wind and wave action can help spread it as well.”

Once fragmented, those bits of the plant sink to the bottom and propagate, she said.

Since early July, when the watermilfoil was found to have spread as far as the waters near the Augusta Country Club golf course in Manchester and north of Hersey Island, Pied’s group has been working with personnel from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on removing the plant by hand. Their most recent visit was Oct. 1.

“Every time we go back, we find more and more plants,” she said.

Pied said FCW asked the state for a surface use restriction around an infested inlet stream near the country club, but the request was denied — Pied doesn’t know on what grounds.

The DEP, working with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, did put buoys at the mouth of the inlet stream, creating a perimeter around the area. The agencies also placed signs telling people to “keep out.”

But controlling the spread is like rowing upstream. Just two weeks ago, Pied said plant surveyors found more Eurasian watermilfoil stems near Farrs Cove, below Horseshoe Island — an area roughly in the center of the lake.

Now, Pied explained, FCW’s plan is to reach out to the five towns surrounding the lake — Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, West Gardiner and Winthrop — to brainstorm possible solutions.

Councilor Barbara Alexander said she was in favor of the surrounding towns getting together, but urged officials with the CYC Lake Association and Friends of the Watershed to bring a structured agenda and present specific plans and solutions, with price tags attached.

Pied said some Maine towns have developed ordinances to stanch the spread of the watermilfoil, and that she will share details at the upcoming meeting.

Alexander asked how the herbicide treatment works, and how effective it is at killing the plants.

Pied said the chemical specifically homes in on milfoils, and has very few use restrictions as a result.

“It’s a synthetic growth hormone,” she said. “So what happens is the plant takes it into its structure, and then the cells just grow so fast that they explode, and that’s what kills the plant.”

She added that ProsellaCOR is an expensive treatment, and that the Eurasian watermilfoil can be difficult to locate, calling the herbicide “not a silver bullet.”

CYC Lake Association Commodore Bill Kieltyka said his group recently raised roughly $18,000 within about 10 minutes of a meeting about the plant threat. “Which totally blew me away, because we’d never had anything like that before,” he said. One factor in the fundraising success was that an official from another lake district had shared a story about that group’s fight with the Eurasian watermilfoil 25 years ago, and how it caused some swimmers to get tangled and drown.

Council Chairperson Sarah Fuller said the town ‘s officials are keeping a keen eye on the situation. “I know this is of high concern to residents,” she said. “I think everybody recognizes what a significant issue this is.”

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