Milfoil infestation threatens NH tourism
MOULTONBOROUGH — Invasive milfoil control and mitigation is an expensive endeavor, with municipalities shouldering more and more of the cost to battle infestations that pack a potentially devastating punch to the tourism economy and property values.
Moultonborough, for example, has raised more than $800,000 in taxpayer-funded warrant articles since 2009 to cover costs for invasive species mitigation in programs that include the use of herbicide, weed watchers, the Diver Assisted Suction Harvesting (DASH) boats and hand harvesting.
That funding level will reach $1 million in 2014 if voters approve the warrant article requesting an additional $200,000. Moultonborough Milfoil Committee Chairman Peter Jensen said town residents and property owners are deeply committed to protecting the health of the town's 68 linear miles of Lake Winnipesaukee waterfront. The committee was formed in 2009 when it became apparent that local lake associations alone could not afford to fund treatment and prevention programs over the long haul.
"The largest portion of our tax revenue comes from shore-front property taxes. The water bodies are tremendously important resources in terms of quality of water and the quality of experiences people have on the lake. The lake is not just a resource used by people who live on the lake, but we also have four public launches and two public swimming areas. For a town of about 4,000 people, that's a tremendous amount of public access," he said.
Since 2009, the town has applied for and received about $104,000 in matching grants from the state.
"That's a good amount, but it would certainly help if the grant amounts were greater. The town has other places to spend our money, and I don't know how long folks in town will be willing to continue this level of funding," he said. "We'd absolutely like to see more state funding," he said.
A quick look at other towns' budgets reveals that funding requests for invasive species control never seem to go down.
In Wolfeboro, the town's milfoil expenditures over the past four years (from 2009 through 2013) were $109,747, according to Town Manager David Owen.
"During that time, it has gone from as little as $16,216 to $38,713 during this calendar year, and it will be at that same higher level again next year, if approved by the budget committee and the voters," he said.
"It's not an extraordinary burden, but it has become a regular part of the town budget that seems to go up and up," Owen said.
According to a survey of milfoil control funding sources from the Ossipee Lake Alliance, a total of $2,650,027 was spent from 2009 to 2012. Of that, 82 percent of the funding came from municipal and private sources, with the state picking up only 18 percent — or $484,462 — of the milfoil- control effort costs. In that four-year period, municipalities allocated, mostly through warrant articles approved by voters, $1,278,904, and private funding, including money raised by lake associations, tallied $866,650, or 34 percent.
Considering that the State of New Hampshire owns and regulates the state's water bodies, lake advocacy groups such as the Ossipee Lake Alliance are urging the state to increase funding for its matching grant program.
Ossipee Lake Alliance Executive Director Bob Reynolds said towns are becoming overburdened with invasive species control costs.
"Common law dictates that the state owns all major lakes and rivers, as well as the land underneath them. But the state expects towns and private businesses and individuals to pay for 80 to 90 percent of the cost of controlling invasive weeds in their water bodies each year," Reynolds said.
"If our lakes and rivers become clogged with weeds, the entire state would lose millions in revenue and hundreds of jobs from the resulting decline in tourism. It's time for our state legislators to step up and vote for enough funding to preserve our valuable natural resources and take this burden off of the backs of towns, businesses and individuals."
$1 million problem
Furthermore, what funds are available are insufficient to cover treatment in all of the states' 70 milfoil-infested water bodies. Reynolds says if the state allocated $861,000 to control milfoil in 70 percent of infested water bodies, $1.3 would be required to control all 70 infestations.
"We have at least a $1 million problem each year, and we're still not addressing all of the infestations. We're risking natural resources that provide revenue to the local economy and the state's coffers. We need to invest to protect our future tourism industry," said Reynolds. Tourism is the state's second largest industry, according to the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.
Jensen said the state's lakes are a huge draw for tourists and residents alike.
"Everybody has a stake in having healthy lakes," said Jenson.