BELGRADE (AP) – The state has decided against closing a popular boat ramp on Messalonskee Lake to stop the spread of milfoil, but it will limit access to hours during which inspectors will be present, officials said Thursday.

The state will install a gate in front of the boat ramp and inspectors will be on duty from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. this month to ensure plant fragments are removed from boats leaving the lake. Inspectors will be on duty until Labor Day.

Two additional public boating ramps at Oakland and Sidney will remain open as normal this summer, official said.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Department of Conservation and Department of Environmental Protection came up with the stopgap measure to stop the spread of the invasive plant to other lakes and ponds.

State agencies also are working to identify options to reduce the spread of milfoil within the lake itself.

Actions under consideration include installation of PVC-coated screens that block sunlight to the plants, or even removing the plants by hand.

Until an overall management plan can be adopted in conjunction with state agencies, volunteer groups and lake associations, the supervised operations of the Belgrade boat launch will help prevent further infestations, DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher said Thursday.

“Maine has a long tradition of access to public waters and maintaining pristine natural resources that are so important to Maine citizens and visitors,” she said in a statement. “These actions we are taking today recognize both of those interests.”

The Route 27 ramp is at the edge of a marsh infested with variable milfoil, a fast-growing aquatic weed that can quickly take over lakes and ponds.

Some fear the unsightly plants can reduce shorefront property values and hurt tourism. Maine, Wyoming and Montana are the only places in the continental United States that have avoided infestations so far.

Last month, fears that fragments of milfoil will accidentally be dragged away on boats prompted Maine’s Congress of Lake Associations to ask the state to close the ramp until it no longer poses a danger.

Caroline Feely of the Messalonskee Lake-Snow Pond Association has said that surveys last year showed 42 percent of boats coming out of the water carried plant fragments that could be transferred to other bodies of water.

AP-ES-07-03-03 1403EDT

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