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Save Lake Ann movement gains traction

FARMINGTON — Wearing T-shirts sporting the slogan "#Save Lake Ann," residents have banded together to start a movement to communicate and challenge the city of Farmington. The group presented four action items to Farmington City Council prior to the April 23 community meeting.

Four action items

Scott Bernatz, a resident of Farmington's Mystic Meadows development for seven years, said the group has collected nearly 200 signatures in an active petition.

"We want to clear up a misconception regarding the group's Save Lake Ann movement and we have four very specific action items," said Bernatz.

The action items are:

• Residents wish to utilize Lake Ann's 24.5 acres of water for recreational use

• Residents can keep access to Lake Ann from individual property lines

• Residents can continue to fund the "costly independent maintenance of the shoreline to keep willow brush and thistles abated"

• Residents want to see walking paths protected since many paths are in disrepair in the neighborhood and community

When Bernatz asked who agreed with the action items, all who were present stood up in the packed City Hall chamber.

"What we are not about ... picking sides amongst our neighbors in Mystic Meadows regarding the encroachment to the water," Bernatz said.

Most neighbors who chose to maintain Lake Ann's waterline did so with direction from the city. "Four short years later, we are worried we were told to do the wrong thing," Bernatz said.

Some residents believe they have received more than a decade of misinformation and contradictions of what is and is not OK to do with shoreline property.

Overgrown, invasive willows

"If I were in your shoes, one of the questions I may ask after seeing us here for a month is why would we ever start to clear areas around the water?" said Holly Bernatz, Scott Bernatz's wife, to City Council. "Certainly a motivator for me personally was to get the willow brush out of there because our house backs up partly to the lake and partly to a walking path."

There are holes in her backyard and she experiences a constant stinking smell from dead fish in the brush, she said. A former city staff member who served as a natural resources specialist guided residents every step of the way, Bernatz said, explaining how to properly remove willow brush. Bernatz said she was told how to alleviate the problem with erosion blankets, grasses and planting wildflowers to reintroduce to the area.

"She told me how to prevent willows from re-emerging," Holly Bernatz said. "Honestly, it has been four years and thousands of dollars of labor, and I am scared because I feel like I am defending what I was told was exactly the right thing to do."

'Willows are a swear word'

Mystic Meadows resident Amber Erickson spoke during the citizens' comments.

"Willow is practically a swear word in our neighborhood at this point after six years of living on Lake Ann." she said. "I know more about its destructive nature than I have ever imagined I could."

Willow brush can be an invasive wood weed that sprouts and spreads through small branches and seeds. The willow changes the character of the water that it grows around.

"Its root systems are similar to those of redwoods — yes, those redwoods in the Pacific Northwest and it is interconnected and vast, making it nearly impossible to pull out once established," Erickson said. "This root system when it grows also undermines the root system near the lake causing erosion and increases the sentiment load. In the fall because of the massive amount of leaves that are dropped in a short period actually reduces the amount of oxygen in the water."

Willow can choke out many native plant species and reduces the amount of natural habitat for wildlife and any willow removal needs to be planned and managed. Once the willows are removed, there is a need for continual spot treatment in a cut-and-swab approach so as to not negatively impact the water with a mass herbicide approach, Erickson said.

"Willow cannot be controlled by cutting and, in fact, willow loves to be cut," Erikson explained. When a willow is cut, you spread the seed and leave behind small branches and pieces that need only a little dirt and water to take hold and reestablish.

"Unfortunately, all the city has ever done at this point when you do decide to come in certain areas of the neighborhood is to cut and grow and often leaving what is cut behind," Erickson said.

Erickson said many homeowners have invested hard work and money to fix the problem.

"We have a lot to learn about maintaining a natural, healthy shoreline but we have also been our own teachers, and natural or not, willow is not a part of that equation," Erickson added.

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