RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency has further streamlined its review process for the removal of invasive species in lakes across the park.
The APA board voted Thursday to approve a general permit that allows for the management of aquatic invasive species using benthic mats and hand harvesting.
Agency staff believe the general permit will be an important tool in what's quickly become one of the biggest and most expensive invasive species removal efforts in the park's history - the battle to control Asian clams in Lake George.
The agency already has a general permit that allowed for the removal of aquatic invasives, but it only applied to plants, APA Environmental Program Specialist Ed Snizek said in a presentation to agency commissioners.
"This includes non-plant invasives as well, like the Asian clam," he said. "It's certainly a more efficient process for the agency, and especially for the applicant, it's a much quicker process using a general permit. It allows lake-wide management under one general permit. It also allows the applicant to have a quick response to new infestations in new locations."
As of last fall, Asian clams have been found in eight different areas in Lake George. Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been spent to try to control them, and more money is being sought. The most common method involves divers placing large plastic mats called benthic barriers on the bottom of the lake. Held in place by sandbags and rebar, the mats smother the thumbnail-size clams, starving them of oxygen.
"The Asian clam benthic mat deployment that's been going on in the past couple years [in Lake George] is the largest we've seen in the park, and also probably the state," Snizek said. "They were matting 6 to 7 acres at one time."
The mats don't just kill Asian clams or whatever invasive is being targeted. They kill anything else that's living in the treated area. For those reasons, the general permit would restrict the use of benthic mats to 3 acres or less. It allows for multiple treatment areas, as long as they're separated by 200 feet. Areas greater than 1 acre can't be treated more than twice in two years.
Snizek said those restrictions sparked concern during a public comment period on the proposed general permit. Some people felt the limitation on 3 acres of contiguous treatment was unnecessary for Lake George. Others said only allowing two consecutive years of treatment would hamper long-term Asian clam removal efforts.
Responding to those comments, Snizek said the permit was written for the entire park, not just Lake George.
"It doesn't preclude the applicant from applying for a full permit if they feel they need to treat a larger area, say a 5 or 6 acres, or if they need to treat for multiple years," he said. "It allows the agency to have a little more control over the larger treatment areas because, quite honestly, the multi-year large acreage benthic barrier deployment we've been seeing is having a significant impact on the freshwater wetlands in those areas."
If Asian clams can't be controlled after two years of treatment, it might be time to try another method, Snizek added.
APA Regulatory Programs Director Rick Weber said the general permit will also include a special condition that requires divers involved in the installation of benthic barriers to undergo cultural resources sensitivity training should they come across a potential archaeological site, like a sunken ship, on the bottom of the lake. Should something like that be found, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation would have to be advised.
The general permit will be available for use by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Lake George Park Commission, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program and other qualified lake organizations or local municipalities. It applies to both privately or state-owned bodies of water.
Chris Knight is a staff writer for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise.