Saugerties considers mechanized trimmer to tackle Esopus-choking water chestnuts

Esopus Creek.

Would a mechanized weed cutter keep the Esopus Creek clear of water chestnuts?

Water chestnuts, a local species unrelated to the oriental delicacy, have been overwhelming a large section of the Esopus Creek, especially the area where the creek widens opposite the village beach. The green mass covers a wide swath of the creek, making boating and swimming in those areas impossible. Much of the weed cover is near Esopus Bend Nature Preserve.

The prickly seed pod.

Saugerties village trustee Donald Hackett suggested at the village board meeting on February 4 that machines could do the job of eradicating the pests more quickly and efficiently that the hand-cutting by volunteers, as is done now.

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These machines aren’t cheap. The one Hackett recommended, the Eco-Harvester, which pulls the weeds out by the roots rather than cutting them off, costs $76,000. Pulling the weeds up rather than cutting them means they don’t have the root structure to reappear the following year.

A less expensive machine which cuts the weeds about four feet down could be obtained a bit less. Since the weeds would grow back, the job must be done from scratch each year. That machine, which sells for around $69,000, is amphibious, which means it can also do some work on land.

“I did happen to talk to a guy that owns one of those, up in the Finger Lakes,” said Hackett. “I called him; he said he loves his machine, but he doesn’t use it just for water chestnuts. He said he would be glad to come down in spring and maybe run his machine in our creek to see how we like it. So I’ll try to keep in contact with him.”

Hackett said he has talked with village project manager Alex Wade about possible grants to pay for the machine. “I read about a grant from the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation], and I contacted Alex, and Alex made some phone calls. The grant is for municipalities and waterways, but unfortunately the grant is mainly for dealing with climate change and to stop flooding. So it doesn’t meet our needs for this. Alex is going to keep looking for different grants.”

“Maybe you could say this [the weed growth] is part of climate change,” mayor Bill Murphy suggested.  

“Alex said that twelve years ago they tried a similar grant, and it failed, but he will keep looking with the DEC and other areas for a grant,” Hackett said. “This is definitely what we need. We don’t want to add chemicals. I’m not into the idea of chemicals, because it’s going down into the Hudson and people are using the water down there.” The comment drew expressions of agreement from the board.

“This is the way I think we should be going, and if we partner with the town we may be able to accomplish that,” Hackett said.

“For an extra ten grand, it would make sense to get the one that pulls them out by the roots,” Murphy said. 

Trustee Jeanine Mayer said she had heard the Town of Esopus had bought a similar machine for about $100,000. Hackett said Esopus had purchased the machine in used condition. It is of the type that cuts the weeds, rather than pulling them.

Reached after the meeting, Hackett said he had spoken to town supervisor Fred Costello, who appeared interested in discussing the idea further. “I looked this up on my own,” said Hackett. “I have been looking into this for the past few years. We should be coordinating with the town.”

While the village beach is under the village’s jurisdiction, areas across the creek from the village on town-owned land would benefit from a weed-free shoreline, Hackett said.

The Esopus Creek is “a big tourism advantage for the village and the town,” Hackett said. He compared it to a lake in the Adirondacks where he and his family vacation and where there are a substantial number of tourists.

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