In the heat of a June afternoon, Celeste Smiley found refuge from the sun under the pavilion at Lake Macy Park in Lake Helen.
“I like coming down here because it is my hometown,” Ms. Smiley said. She grew up in Lake Helen and had driven from her current home in DeLand to the park’s pavilion overlooking the water.
However, the lake is not always good fishing. A month ago, her trip was disappointing due to an invasive aquatic plant known as silvinia covering most of the lake near its boat ramp.
“The weeds were everywhere,” she said, “I could hardly fish.”
That is what Lake Helen commissioners and residents want to stop from happening at local lakes. Just a mile or so away from Ms. Smiley, an aquatic biologist, Sean Patton, discussed solutions with local residents and two commissioners Friday, June 11, in the conference room of Lake Helen City Hall.
While the sun beamed down on the building exterior, there was a heated exchange inside about the approach to take. A supporter of spraying in certain ecosystems and commissioners Roger Eckert and Kelly Frasca argued over the use of the herbicide glyphosate.
Jennifer Hopton-Villalobos stated the ban of certain herbicides was not “scientific” and politicians were the ones who had banned it.
Commissioner Frasca lashed out, saying loudly as Ms. Hopton-Villalobos continued to talk, “It’s banned.” She told her to stop talking or she would have to leave the session.
As the two women continued to raise their voices, Commissioner Eckert slapped the conference room table and shouted “Enough,” adding the public meeting was to learn about the lakes from the consultant.
Ms. Hopton-Villalobs had identified herself as a former organic farmer during the debate on the herbicide. After the meeting, she said, “The heated subject pertained to a suggestion that glyphosate be banned for farmers. I was attempting to explain how incredibly large farms are.”
Mr. Patton, who founded the environmental consulting firm, Stocking Savvy LLC, did not rule out using herbicides, but that would be a last resort. Regarding costs, he anticipates the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has the resources to implement some or all of his plan, depending on the options the city decides to select. The commission will receive a menu of options by July along with recommendation for keeping the lakes healthy for the long-term.
His immediate goals for Lake Helen are to stock carp and add signage around the lake. For Lake Macy, he said the salvinia must be removed as well as other prevention measures. Still, the goal of his visit was to answer questions prior to the full report.
“There are quite a few people here with questions on herbicides and management,” Mr. Patton said. “I am mostly here to do is help answer questions.”
In addition to Friday’s session, he gave a presentation to City Council the evening before about “environmentally sound maintenance practices acceptable to the city and the FWC,” the agenda stated.
“I’m not here to sell them anything,” Mr. Patton said after the session, who was hired by the city in May at a cost of $912. He is working on a plan with three levels of integrated pest management for Lake Helen and Lake Macy with some being more expensive than the others.
Resident Nancy Weary was encouraged with the move by the commission to bring on Mr. Patton. She wanted “no herbicide spraying and that is the goal,” she said, leaving the public session explaining others in the session may favor spraying. “It can be done, it's being done elsewhere.”
According to City Administrator Lee Evett, “We don’t have a problem, we just don’t want to have one.”
While Mr. Evett is new to Lake Helen’s government, he said the health of the city’s namesake lake has suffered in the past.
At the public session, Mr. Patton said the namesake body of water is not in a state of emergency in terms of its invasive species, but Lake Macy was in a “crisis situation.”
Joy Taylor, a resident and lake restoration volunteer, said the city’s approach in hiring Mr. Patton for the report is a parallel effort to their work. Still, the update of the report is welcome news. Ms. Taylor represents the Lake Helen League for Better Living, which also has plans for the health and well being of Lake Helen, she said.
The city’s effort increases the long-term prognosis for the body of water and the more people involved in maintaining the environmental quality of the lake the better, Ms. Taylor explained. “You have to be able to work with many people in the community.”
She also characterized Lake Helen’s health differently than Mr. Evett. “This is a very chaotic time for Lake Helen. The hydrilla infestation was an emergency.”
The FWC had removed truckloads of the invasive plant last year, Mr. Patton said, adding that was why it was not causing urgent issues now.
Meanwhile, Ms. Taylor said the water quality of the lake and fishing is excellent. Lake Macy is another situation, but both lakes need long-term care and maintenance. She added, “We need to love our lakes.”