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Farmers fear impact of herbicides in pond

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ANCRAM—As town officials consider a local law to limit the conditions under which neighbors can deem farming a nuisance, some farmers want protection from the harmful practices of neighbors—specifically the application of herbicides.

During an April 21 public hearing on the town’s Right to Farm Law farmer Donald MacLean, whose farm is certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), told the Town Board the new law focuses on whether farming activity causes a disturbance but does not address “practices by non-farmers that could adversely affect a farmer’s ability to farm.”

Mr. MacLean and his wife, Marnie, operate the Thompson-Finch Farm at 750 Wiltsie Bridge Road where they grow fruits, berries, vegetables and grains. At issue for them are pending permit applications by Camp Pontiac to apply herbicides and algaecides to Lower Rhoda Pond.

Lower Rhoda flows into Long Lake and then the Roeliff Jansen Kill, from which the MacLean’s use water to irrigate their crops.

Camp Pontiac at 2044 County Route 7 in West Copake, is a co-ed sleep-away summer camp, that “proposes to control nuisance aquatic vegetation that impede the use of [the camp’s] recreational swimming and boating area by applying aquatic pesticides to Lower Rhoda Pond.”

Lower Rhoda spans the Copake/Ancram town line. Camp co-owner Ken Etra has hired Mark Roland of Limonology Information & Freshwater Ecology Inc. (LIFE) in Hopewell Junction to handle the permit application process through the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The company would also apply the four chemicals to 7 to 9 acres of the 60-acre pond should the permits be issued. The chemicals proposed are: Navigate, Nautique, copper sulfate and Clear Cast. The last chemical on the list was applied for April 28, applications for the first three were made in February.

Mr. Roland did not respond to an April 26 request for comment.

At the Town Board meeting by Mrs. MacLean read a letter addressed to the DEC Bureau of Pesticides from Lori M. Kenyon, certification director at NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-accredited organic certification agency. It certifies the Thompson-Finch Farm and the letter says the chemicals proposed for use by the camp are prohibited or restricted products when it comes to organic production.

“If contamination from a prohibited product is found on organic crops or fields it may require the producer to wait up to three years before using this field for organic production. This could also cause a loss of organic certification and/or loss of the organic premium for crops,” the letter says, adding, “Such contamination could cause catastrophic financial hardship.”

The MacLean’s farm has been certified organic since 1988 and USDA National Organic Program-certified since the program’s inception in 2002.

Ms. Kenyon of NOFA-NY closes her letter by asking the DEC not to allow chemicals to be used in Lower Rhoda Pond, but rather to “look at alternatives such as an aeration system, weed barrier fabric and non-toxic weed killers.”

Ancram Conservation Advisory Council Chair and Lower Rhoda resident Jamie Purinton also spoke at the meeting about the pending camp applications, noting more than 100 families associated with Lower Rhoda Pond and Long Lake oppose the use of the chemicals. She noted that the vegetation the camp seeks to remove: Chara, Coontail and Water Lily, are all native species, not invasives. She said thanks to an April 14 story in The Columbia Paper, support has been received from the organic farming community, Trout Unlimited, local birders and river monitors associated with Riverkeeper.

Rick Georgeson, DEC public information officer, told The Columbia Paper this week that the Camp Pontiac herbicide/algaecide permit applications are still under review. He said the DEC had received a new permit application, with the camp’s request to apply an additional pesticide, Clear Cast.

“With the addition of this new permit application, our review process will take longer than originally anticipated,” Mr. Georgeson said by email.

In addition to an aquatic pesticide permit, a Freshwater Wetlands permit for the use of aquatic pesticides in Lower Rhoda is also required for this action.

The wetlands permit application was deemed administratively complete April 12. A notice about the completion and seeking public comment was published April 20 and the DEC’s technical review began. The original deadline for submitting comments was May 5, but that deadline was extended to May 19 at the request of the public.

Once the application material and additional information received through public comment has been reviewed by technical staff, the DEC may send the applicant a Request for Additional Information if more information is required to complete the technical review, Mr. Georgeson said.

Comments on this project must be submitted in writing to:

Patricia M. Gabriel, NYSDEC Region 4 Headquarters, 1130 North Westcott Road, Schenectady 12306.

The Ancram Town Board will continue its consideration of the Right to Farm Law at the May 19 monthly meeting at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

 

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