GROTON -- The Great Ponds Advisory Committee found expectations short circuited when, for the second time, the Water Commission declined to support a plan to use chemicals in Baddacook Pond to get a weed infestation under control.
"I haven't seen anything that's changed my mind," said Water Commissioner Gary Hoglund, who led the charge against the committee's plans at the commission's meeting last week.
With the areas of open water on Baddacook Pond shrinking every year, the Great Ponds Advisory Committee decided that it was time to do something about such invasive weeds as milfoil and cabomba that have been slowly choking it.
But the committee's plan to use a herbicide called Sonar to rid the pond of the weeds was cut short when the Water Commission voted against it. Fearful that the chemicals would endanger the groundwater that feeds their Baddacook Pond well site, commissioners voiced reluctance to take any chances.
Firm in the belief that not only were chemicals the only practical solution to the weed problem at Baddacook but that they pose no danger to the well site, committee members met in joint session with the Board of Selectmen Feb. 10 to see if the commission's vote could be revisited.
That meeting, however, did not sit well with commissioners, with Hoglund expressing resentment at the committee "going over its head" with selectmen.
Hoglund's characterization of the committee's motives was reprimanded by Selectman Peter Cunningham, who called the meeting a "courtesy" to the Great Ponds group.
Cunningham reminded Hoglund that the Water Commission was also invited to the meeting and that there was no "pulling of rank" going on.
"No one is trying to undermine your authority," said Cunningham, adding that the committee's concerns "certainly warrant consideration."
The advisory committee arrived at the commission's meeting with some hope that members would change their minds about supporting their plans, especially in light of added information from the state's Environmental Protection Administration.
But those hopes ended when the commissioners, led by Hoglund, found that by the federal government's standards, the EPA was unreliable in the matter of chemical use in ponds and lakes.
"I don't think your group has answered all the questions," said Hoglund of new material submitted by the committee making the case for the safe use of such chemicals as Sonar.
Among the commission's objections to the plan, Hoglund cited costs involved with hiring an independent consultant to study the use of chemicals in Baddacook Pond and its potential effect on the well site as well as paying for a special permit if the process was approved.
"This has to be revenue neutral for the ratepayers," said Hoglund, adding that ridding the pond of weeds benefited only residents living around it. "There's no benefit here for ratepayers. We get nothing. Zip."
Dismissing the word of representatives of the company that would conduct the weed-killing program that chemicals would not endanger the groundwater, Hoglund said that if the subject were to proceed at all, they would need to hire a consultant who had no interest in whether the project went forward.
A way must be found to conduct an unbiased study of the proposal to make absolutely sure chemical use would not harm the groundwater. Because if it did, and remediation was necessary some time in the future, it would cost plenty, said Hoglund.
And who would be liable to pay for such remediation?
"We need assurance that somebody is going to pay for it," said Hoglund.
Water commissioners' doubts about the use of chemicals in the pond were buttressed not only by the low grades given the state EPA by the federal government, but also a report by local chemist George Barringer, who looked into the proposal at the commission's request and found the background for such treatments wanting.
Hoglund noted Barringer's added warning that once chemicals are placed in the water, it is difficult if not impossible to get them out again.
"There is a potential for liability there that cannot come back to the ratepayers," insisted Hoglund.
But despite their doubts, commissioners were willing to leave the subject open to further discussion providing the advisory committee return with a plan to hire an independent consultant and possible solutions to the liability question.
"I think we should continue forward at this point," concluded committee Chairman James Luening.
Water Commissioner James Gmeiner saw the move as a way forward but cautioned that even if the committee's request were approved, it might not be until 2016 before actual steps could be taken to address the weed infestation in Baddacook Pond.