Media Archive

Invasive weed at root of Sebec controversy

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 30, July 23, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

Warrant set for town meeting

SEBEC An invasive plant is at the root of a new controversy in the village.

The Sebec Garden Club's proposal to remove an overgrowth of Japanese knotweed, also known as Mexican bamboo, at the town boat launch on Sebec Lake came under scrutiny at Monday's selectmen's meeting.

Resident Phyllis Fariel attended the meeting to present a copy of an e-mail to the board of selectmen from Gregory Cunningham, an attorney representing E. Forbes Smiley III, owner of Sebec Village Shops. The e-mail was written in response to questions Smiley had about the proposal.

Selectmen Susan Dow explained at the meeting that the garden garden club hopes to eradicate the weed, which is impairing access to the boat launch, and replace it with native live plants and shrubbery. As a member of the garden club, she said that she spoke with Val Whittier, environmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Protection, about the plans.

Whittier said Tuesday that the town has acquired a permit by rule, "essentially, a gentleman's agreement" that allows the town to remove the weed and replace it with native plantings as long as erosion control measures are intact throughout the process.

Whittier said the Japanese knotweed "grows voraciously, out-competing native plants, and spreading," negatively impacting the natural habitat of the lake. The non-native plant is found state-wide, she said, and is difficult to remove, once it grows roots.

Lois Berg Stack, ornamental horticulture specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said that she would not recommend digging the plant up. She said that the knotweed has "an amazing root system," and that even fairly small pieces of root can resprout and flourish. She suggested repeated mowing of the area, and covering of the weed with old pieces of linoleum or carpeting, cutting off the plant's sun- light. "Eventually, you'll weaken it to the point it dies," Stack said.

"This project is a long-term, step-by-step issue," Dow said, and that members of the garden club are stepping forward to volunteer their time and whatever funding is necessary to complete the project.

She said the garden club aims to get whatever permits are necessary to complete remove the weed either through the use of herbicides, digging and removing the roots, or "burning" the weed under blackplastic and the subsequent landscaping project.

"We're not going to do it illegally," said Dow.

She added that this was a first step toward any future development of the Cove Road boat launch facility. She said that a beach or swimming hole is not included in the proposal, although it is a wish of the garden club.

Kristy McLeod, administrative assistant for the Sebec Village Shops property and a former selectman, suggested that the townspeople must vote at town meeting to accept any donations of time or money for the project.

Chairman Buzz Small cautioned that there should be a perpetual care plan for the site, once some action is taken to remove the weed, so as the town does not waste "energy and dollars." "If we're going to do something, I'd like to make sure it lasts," Small said.

There was a question raised as to whether the town owned the half-acre plot of land that the garden club hopes to improve. Resident Walt Emmons presented deeds to selectmen verifying that the property was gifted the to Ihe town in the mid-1980s from Champion International. He traced the property's ownership back to the mid-1850s.

Dow said that she considered the eradication of the knotweed as "care of town property." She said that she would like to see the plants removed to allow better access to the boat launch, if for no other reason.

Resident Bobby Slama said that the plant does make it near impossible to back a boat in for launching.

Small agreed to place the improvements to the Sebec Garden Club proposal on the warrant for the Aug. 11 town meeting for voter consideration. He said that within the next week, however, someone would be on the site to clear out the boat launch site, "because it's a safety hazard." He said the article will address improvements that are further than regular maintenance, on the town-owned land adjacent to the boat launch and parking area.

Board members also agreed to contact Assessor's Agent Herb Dickey about a question regarding the Sebec Reading Room and taxation.

Dow said that she has a concern that the non-profit site is being used for commercial purposes, due to an easement granted Sebec Village Shops that allows for the installation of a well and septic on the Reading Room property. She said she would contact Dickey to discuss the situation.

The board also settled the warrant for the Aug. !1 town meeting, approving expenditures of $662,166,85 including $305,913 for schools (SAD 68) and $47,036 for the county and a tentative tax rate of $14.22 per $1,000 valuation. The overall budget represents a 5.2 percent increase over the 2002-Q3 expenditures.

Dow said that the tax rate of $14.22 is tentative, as the assessment of town valuation is not yet complete and an overlay has not been established. She estimated that the tax rate would not be drastically different from last year's, which was set at $12.40 per $1,000 valuation.

Small said that the municipal budget amounts to about 15 percent of the overall property tax. Aside from the county tax and school budget increases, the 2003-04 budget includes $2,000 salaries for all three selectmen, along with increases in the paving and road construction reserves amounting to about $30,000, and summer roads increase of $10,000.

The annual town meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11, at the Harland A. Ladd Municipal Building. In addition to the budget, voters will elect town officials and a town selectman, and determine whether the town will join as a member of the Municipal Review Committee, and enter a 15-year con tract with Penobscot Energy Recovery Company regarding tipping fees.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.