Weeds choke Lake Gaston

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 18, 2004

JACKSON – Members of the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council met with Northampton County Commissioners this past Tuesday to submit its budget requests for 2004 in light of the growing weed problem that has been plaguing the area.

According to the council’s President Dr. Elton Brown, the lake, which was constructed in 1963 to generate hydroelectric energy, has been experiencing increasing difficulty with noxious weeds taking over the water causing property owners with financial interests in Lake Gaston to become concerned.

Council members have consulted experts with prior experience in the treatment/eradication of similar infestations and have determined the need for action to be pressing.

In 2003 alone, Army Corp Of Engineers (ACOE), the chief control agency over all of the North American water waste, reported that the noxious weeds completely infested every area of the lake to depths of 15-20 feet with a potential to expand over 7,500 additional acres.

This year according to follow-up reports, some 3,400 acres have already been infested with hydrilla, Eurasion water milfoil and Brazilian elodea and the projection for the future doesn’t look any brighter.

Skip Wiegersma, General Manager of Aquatic Nuisance Plant Control in Littleton, stated that if the funding to treat the problem does not become available soon, the quality of the lake and all it has to offer would progressively and markedly decline.

Following the successfully completed drawdown of elodea during the mid to late 80’s, the early 90’s evidenced a serious upward growth pattern more than doubling the acreage of weed infestation, from 500+ acres to nearly 1,500 and edging over 3,000 acres in slightly over a year.

According to Weigersma, a five-year management plan employing treatment options, which include the use of selective herbicides in conjunction with biological and mechanical methods, would be the best overall approach in handling the problem.

&uot;Right now, with things exactly as they are, the systemic treatment would run nearly $1 million annually,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s not including the contact or biological treatment.&uot; Weigersma estimated that the projected annual cost of treatment would be $1,709,126.96 consecutively for the next five years.

&uot;The problem we have here at Lake Gaston is a unique one because there are two different types of hydrilla present in addition to the water milfoil and elodea,&uot; added Brown.

&uot;We need to make state and federal officials aware that we’re not talking about quality, but rather quality of life. The lake is a strong force in economics and we need to preserve it any way we can,&uot; he said.

Council Secretary John Slaton commented on the downside of leaving the problem untreated stating, &uot;The probability for adverse impact to property values, tourism and recreational activities increases with each moment we are unable to address the issues here at hand.&uot;

Current real estate investments, future development, public safety in boating and swimming and other recreational activities like game fishing are all concerns facing area property owners, not to mention tourism which generates approximately $21 million annually in addition to about $10.5 million in consumer goods sales.

Although $397,000 of funding has currently been approved, $489,350 of a balance is still needed to compete with the growing weed problem at the lake, leaving the total estimated expense for 2004 at


Despite the budget challenges currently facing the Commissioners, the Council proposed that Northampton contribute $40,000 towards the preservation of the lake, which would be matched by a grant from the state.

&uot;We recognize and appreciate the value of Lake Gaston, both to Northampton County and to the residents,&uot; said Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins. &uot;We are conscious of the significance of investment as well as the wealth of resources provided by the lake recreationally, ecologically and otherwise and we are currently looking at the concept of creating a service district, though it would not be in time for this budget year.&uot;

He continued, &uot;We have yet to find a perfect formula and we’ve got some hard decisions to discuss, but we will give as much consideration to Northampton’s contribution to this project.&uot;

Weigersma stated that if each of the five participating counties in the council would contribute the $40,000 match amount, it might be possible to get the weed problem under control and allow them the opportunity to place the lake on an effective management schedule.

&uot;This would allow us to get the most we can from the state,&uot; he said. &uot;There’s really only two ways you can obtain funding, from private funds or from state and federal funds.&uot;

He explained that due to federal budget cut backs, funding is not available through that venue.

According to a report based on the economic impact of the various counties with interests in Lake Gaston, Northampton County’s percentage of total tax base was 17.4, translating into $191,400,000, with Halifax reporting $148,503,450 (6.6 percent) and Warren County reporting $521,843,211 (49.0 percent).

In Virginia, Brunswick County reported $95,485,860 (15.0 percent) with Mecklenburg reporting $156,404,150 (10.0 percent).

&uot;If we don’t start pushing state and federal representatives toward helping us get this situation under control, it will only continue to get worse,&uot; said Weigersma. &uot;If people really want to get the ball rolling, they need to start contacting their senators and representatives and push for some legislative options that would help protect this valuable asset.&uot;

Those options included the possible implementation of a gasoline highway tax allocation on a state level and county treatment funding, fire tax district approach, dock fee tax and special business tax (rental property fee) on the local level in addition to voluntary contributions from those within the Lake Gaston neighborhood.