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Lake Contrary: Aerial spraying doesn’t fly for some

If Buchanan County officials decide to dredge Lake Contrary, the process would start with the aerial application of a weed-killer called Clearcast. The county is considering a South Carolina company’s $118,000 bid to spray the herbicide by helicopter, but a decision isn’t expected for 60 days.

Posted on December 4, 2023

The on-again, off-again dream of dredging Lake Contrary seemed to be gaining momentum in Buchanan County.

But it ran into the reality of citizen opposition at a meeting Wednesday in the Buchanan County Courthouse. Before dredging, county officials still have to find a funding source and decide who would actually do the work. But the biggest sticking point for one group of citizens is the proposal to start the process by spraying herbicide from a helicopter.

That concept didn’t fly with people who showed up at the commission meeting.

“Aggressively spraying any kind of herbicides of any sort in that area just seems like an irresponsible thing,” said Larry Christy, who lives a quarter mile from Lake Contrary and attended the commission meeting.

The commissioners are considering a South Carolina company’s bid to spray the lake bed with a herbicide so that roots and vegetation don’t clog up the dredging equipment. A decision to spend more than $100,000 on weed removal would put the county on a path toward dredging, a three-year project that could cost $7.5 million or more.

Eastern District Commissioner Scott Burnham said it might be time to pump the brakes.

“I think there’s some things we’ve got to identify before we even consider going to the next step,” he said.

Burnham said he isn’t necessarily against dredging the lake, which has seen its water level diminish to the point that docks and boat ramps lead to chest-high weeds instead of water.

But he said the county needs to answer some key questions, including whether $4.5 million left over from a quarter-cent tax for Missouri River levee repair could be used for Lake Contrary.

“It has to be used for maintenance or repair on the levee, because that’s what the ballot language said,” Burnham said. “Is that money available to use for this particular project? We’ve got to get an answer for that.”

He said there’s also a question of return on investment. What does the county actually get, in terms of economic activity, if the lake is once again full of water?

The county will wait about 60 days before deciding on the bid for aerial spraying so that it can hash out questions about the tax, permitting and the risks involved with a herbicide called Clearcast. The Environmental Protection Agency has authorized Clearcast for aerial application, but some county residents are uneasy about that aspect of the plan.

“Chemically polluting everything downstream to get what we used to have is very illogical,” one person said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Christy said the bigger concern is that the county’s dredging plan involves dumping dirt from the lake into the Missouri River. The county wanted to deposit the dirt into the river because it would be less costly than renting nearby acreage for land application.

“They’re talking about doing a slurry dredge which would actually dump all of this sediment that is going to be poisoned into the Missouri River,” Christy said. “It’s going to be a concern for people downstream.”


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