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ConsCom weighs pros and cons of weed treatment, residents concerned about wells

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AYER — The Conservation Commission (ConsCom) met on Thursday, Jan. 26, to discuss a potential stall in the plan for weed control in Ayer’s ponds. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species division sent the commission an e-mail requesting more input regarding weed control.

“We have to wait for Natural Heritage,” said ConsCom Chairman Patrick Hughes before recusing himself from the hearing as his land abuts one of the ponds.

Several of Ayer’s ponds are home to endangered species. While any herbicides used would have long standing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval, there are still some public concerns about their use.

Grove Pond is among the ones most choked with weeds, according to Hughes. Some citizens have contacted the ConsCom asking about the possible contamination of wells near there. The ConsCom intends to look into testing wells if and when any chemical treatments take place.

The commission also addressed two other issues during the public hearing, including the process of permitting weed control and acquiring the funding that would be necessary to do so. During last year’s town meeting, funding was approved to conduct a study and treatment of the ponds, but the money that was approved falls nearly $20,000 short.

The ConsCom’s immediate concerns are Sandy Pond and Flannegans Pond. Both have significant weed problems and get the most use.

Prior to the study, it was expected that Flannegans Pond would need treatment, but Sandy Pond’s weed problem was a surprise and is the reason for the shortfall in funding.

“When we had put this together for last year’s warrant we had not known that Sandy pond had become such a problem,” said Hughes.

The main reason that ConsCom wants to treat both these ponds at the same time is that if one pond is treated and the other is not, the invasive weeds will spread back from the untreated pond into the treated one.

“I would feel bad spending $27,000 on one pond and not make a difference,” said ConsCom member William Daniels. The remaining issue was how to get the funding to treat both ponds.

Daniels recommended the committee submit a request for proposal (RFP) to try and acquire the funding, which would also allow them to get specific pricing from contractors who would do the actual treatment. Hughes also recommended they produce a warrant article to acquire the funds, which they could amend to remove on town meeting floor if they get the RFP funding.

“All we can do is try within the timeline,” said Hughes. Another possible source of funding for weed control are Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, although it is unlikely they would be able to get them this fiscal year. Hughes also commented that he would rather see that money go to the preservation of Ayer’s open spaces.

The ConsCom also took a moment to review the status of their wetlands bylaw proposal. There will be one more public debate session for the bylaw during their Feb. 9 meeting at 7:45 p.m. before they end the sessions to draft the revised bylaw proposal by Feb. 23. After that the commission will then hold public hearings on the new document prior to town meeting.