GROTON -- Members of the Groton Lakes Association had a moment of uncertainty last week when the chairman of the Planning Board expressed doubts about its pursuit of the use of herbicides in Lost Lake to control the spread of weeds.
The association appeared before the board to discuss and hopefully gain its support for the plans to introduce herbicides into Lost Lake and Knops Pond to solve the problem once and for all.
After trying over many years every other means of control, members of the association believe that invasive plant species such as milfoil, combomba, water chestnut and filamentous still threaten to turn the lakes into swampland if something is not done soon.
In support of resorting to a chemical solution to the weed problem, the association submitted to the board a list of 27 other towns in Massachusetts, including Ayer and Littleton, that have used such chemicals to good effect.
Proponents of the herbicide solution hope to see the same positive results in Groton, thus saving the town's lakes for use by boaters and swimmers indefinitely.
In its pursuit of support, proponents of the use of herbicides had earlier acquired the backing of the Board of Selectmen, who were represented at last week's Planning Board meeting by Joshua Degen.
After a summation of the dire situation at the lakes by association member Art Prest, board members expressed a number of concerns about the herbicide solution, including its cost, nitrogen loading in the lakes as a result of faulty neighborhood septic systems, and what impact a proposed Lost Lake Sewer system would have on the lake and its vegetation.
It was at that point that Planning Board Chairman John Giger expressed his doubts about the proposal, saying that the plan to use herbicides was still very much unformed, with many unanswered questions, including its exact cost, how it would be paid for, control of the area around the lakes, enforcement in keeping invasive species out of the lakes once they were cleared, the town's liability if something should go wrong with the herbicide, and the lack of a comprehensive plan taking into account all the concerns raised.
"This thing has to be put together as a package," said Giger.
Although some members had reservations, in the end, the board decided to support the association's notice of intent with its concerns about bio-mass, nitrogen loading, and septic issues noted in the language of the vote.
Also last week, board members voted to recommend to residents at fall Town Meeting that they allow the Conservation Commission to purchase a 108-acre parcel along Chicopee Row.
In the warrant article, the Conservation Commission will seek permission to use money from its conservation fund to buy 49 acres currently owned by Susan Walker and another 59 acres owned by Marjorie Cox located off Chicopee Row at an estimated purchase price of $716,000.
However, at an earlier meeting with the Board of Selectmen, commissioners said they hoped to win a state grant that would cover up to 60 percent of the cost.
Nevertheless, board members had questions of their own regarding the land, including the number of homes that might be built upon it if were to be developed.
One of the arguments made by the Conservation Commission in favor of buying the land was to keep it out of development, which they claim could place up to five homes on the property.
But that number was questioned by board member Scott Wilson, who noted that the land was once considered and rejected as the site of a new high school. Since then, not enough testing had been done to determine how much land was buildable.
The number of homes is crucial to the commission's argument in that the fewer homes that could be constructed, the weaker its argument.
Planning administrator Michelle Collette reminded the board that changing regulations and methods of construction have made it possible to build homes on land that only a few years before would have been considered unusable.
"It's very beautiful up there," noted board member Carolyn Perkins. "We should preserve it if we can. It makes sense in all sorts of ways."
Most of Perkins' colleagues agreed with her, voting 5-1 in favor of supporting the purchase.