by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he first granules of chemical herbicides were unleashed upon Lake Pend Oreille's burgeoning mats of Eurasian milfoil Monday to booming celestial attention -- in the form of intense thunder and lightning -- but with little of the promised civil disobedience by lake defenders.

People who oppose using chemicals on the invasive weed did storm the office of Leslie Marshall, Bonner County's director of Public Works for Noxious Weeds, at 8 o'clock Monday morning to demand the locations of spray sites and that the county consider alternative methods. The mutual shouting match ended with little satisfaction as the spray sites were not revealed (how hard is it to spot a flotilla of three work boats?), and Marshall repeated that alternatives will not be considered this summer.

The spread of Eurasian milfoil has been so rapid as to be frightening, Marshall says. She notes that several years ago, the infestation covered between 300 acres and 500 acres -- and that despite small yearly applications of various chemicals, it's covering nearly 4,000 acres now.

So this year, armed with a $1.5 million grant from a newly minted state law on controlling noxious weeds, Bonner County is using hundreds of pounds of fluridone this week and the herbicide 2,4-D next week in an attempt to knock the milfoil back to more manageable levels.

After that, Marshall says, the county will be open to ongoing weed control involving a variety of approaches.

Three factors have galvanized critics: the county's "all-chemical" approach to weed control this year; the gigantic scale of the problem (it's the largest aquatic weed project in Idaho history); and minimal public notice. Sandpoint has a long history of environmental activism and government watch-dogging, but this time, protests about the milfoil project seem to verge on the hysterical.

There has been name-calling and fist-shaking and outright disinformation. Marshall reports fielding dozens of insulting calls at her home last weekend.

Steve Holt, spokesman for Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, notes that the protest group itself is fracturing. One faction sees a need to work with the county on using other-than-chemical weed-control methods, while "some people don't even want to be at the table," he says.

A lot of the hysteria has to do with a knee-jerk fear of chemicals, several observers say. Too bad, when there are plenty of other question marks about Pend Oreille's milfoil problem.

There's freshman GOP legislator Eric Anderson who suddenly finds himself a key player in passing the noxious-weed bill and disbursing $4 million in state funds, almost half of it to his home district. There's the involvement of the Heritage Fund, a pro-chemical conservative and libertarian group that is touting the project on its national Web site. There are the Bonner County officials who took the lion's share of the taxpayer money ($1.6 million) to spend on a single company, Aquatechnex of Medical Lake, without any public vetting.

And many tend to agree on the upshot of the entire affair: Milfoil will still be in Pend Oreille after all the granules have settled. "We know we are never going to eradicate it from this lake. We've got to get some control over it so it's never like this again," the county's Marshall says.

Holt agrees and hopes to convince county officials to look at weed-control measures that include a mix of chemicals, bottom barriers, diver harvesting and biological controls such as milfoil-eating weevils.

He and Marshall both agree that some of the money should be used for wash stations at public (and even private) marinas and boat launches. That's because the weed jumps from waterway to waterway via boat and trailer.

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