GROTON — The Conservation Commission inched forward on the topic of using herbicides in Baddacook Pond — at least to the point of agreeing on a punch list of to-do items.
If completed to the satisfaction of the Water Commission, they may pave the way to clearing the pond of invasive weeds.
Coming up with the list, as basic as it was, was a major step forward in a process that has been bogged down by the Water Commission, which has refused to accept any evidence to the contrary that use of a chemical called Sonar would be safe in Baddacook,part of aquifer that feeds a well supplying the town with some of its drinking water.
Sensitive about preserving the quality of their drinking water, commissioners have expressed skepticism over the use of Sonar at Baddacook citing studies that state the chemical could end up contaminating the water supply.
For that reason, the commission voted to deny its support of the Advisory Committee’s plan to use Sonar in the pond.
Stymied by the commission, residents and members of the Great Ponds Advisory Committee have been working to satisfy demands by commissioners that they provide more information about hiring an independent consultant and possible solutions to a question of liability should the well water become contaminated despite assurances of the safe use of chemicals in the pond.
But having found technical confirmation of the safety of Sonar, including testimony by former Littleton Electric and Water Department manager Savas Danos, Advisory Committee members decided to approach the Board of Selectmen for support in their appeal to the ConsCom.
Finding that support, GPAC applied to the Conservation Commission for permission to use Sonar in Baddacook with formulation of a list of demands that the Water Commission would need in order to be satisfied with the safety of Sonar being one of the first things needing to be done.
In the meantime though, ConsCom members had outstanding questions for the Water Commissioners including whether they had met with their counterparts in Littleton where Sonar has been used under similar circumstances as that proposed for Baddacook.
Commissioner Gary Hoglund replied that studies done in Littleton about the effect Sonar might have had on the water supply were “very old.” Furthermore, conditions were different in Littleton with the manufacturer never having offered its test results to Groton.
“We have a lot of questions based on a lot of holes,” Hoglund said of the lack of information.
At the same time, Hoglund acknowledged that no recent tests have been conducted in Groton so that commissioners were “flying blind.”
“We don’t have answers,” declared Hoglund. “We need help getting answers, scientific answers.”
Unfortunately, money to pay for such tests as well as a consultant was voted down by the Board of Selectmen.
“Without the money to pay for a consultant, we’re left to sort it out ourselves,” lamented ConsCom member Marshall Giguere.
Hoglund then read from DEP regulations regarding acquiring a permit for the use of herbicides in bodies of water that feed wells in support of his contention that they were not allowed.
ConsCom chairman John Smigelski, however caught a phrase that left open the possibility of a permit being awarded.
“The way I read it, that’s not a blanket no,” Smigelski pointed out.
Next, ConsCom member Peter Morrison asked Hoglund if the Water Commission would consider allowing a barrier to be placed between the different zones of the pond, dividing the zone that was within the protection area from the one that could be worked on.
“Fundamentally, we have no problem with that at all, but we have to look at the whole life cycle of the plants,” said Hoglund. “We need to look at the full picture.”
“No one is saying that they want (Sonar) in their drinking water,” added fellow Water Commissioner James Gmeiner of the lack of expressed support for the use of chemicals from rate payers.
In the end, all sides agreed on a punch list of issues that needed to be addressed to the satisfaction of the Water Commission, including hearing from the state’s National Heritage environmental watchdog group, getting a toxicology report on the use of Sonar, a mitigation plan, details on the Planning Board’s special permitting process, and a trial permit application with the DEP to help clarify the path to approval at least at the state level.
The public hearing was continued until the commission’s meeting of March 24.