Township fights phragmites

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published September 17, 2014

 The epicenter of an Oakland Township phragmites invasion is located near Silver Bell and Adams roads, according to city officials.

The epicenter of an Oakland Township phragmites invasion is located near Silver Bell and Adams roads, according to city officials.

Photo by Linda Shepard

OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — A new effort aims to wipe out invasive phragmites in the township.

Phragmites are a large perennial grass currently choking out natural plants while interfering with drainage and presenting a fire risk. Invasive plants are brought to an area from another country or location, delivering a plant with no natural enemies.

Phragmites can become the dominant vegetation in a small amount of time, said Joerg Hensel, Oakland Township resident.

“You see it on (road) shoulders, at intersections and in swamps,” Hensel said. “It really affects the ecosystem. It will shade out seedlings of native plants.”

Hensel, an architect and environmental steward, will be heading up a phragmites eradication effort on public land in the township.

“The epicenter (of the phragmites invasion) is near Silver Bell and Adams roads,” Hensel said at a Sept. 9 Oakland Township Board of Trustees presentation. “We have a huge strand that is just spreading seed.”

Hensel said cutting down phragmites does not eradicate the plant.

“The roots are enormous,” he said. “Digging, tilling and pulling will spread it.” He said carefully applied chemicals are the only successful treatment.

During the 1950s and ’60s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources planted phragmites for erosion control.

“They did not realize how dangerous it was until 20 years ago,” Hensel said. 

Formation of a citizen committee to tackle the job would mean the effort could be delayed past the point of effectiveness, Hensel said.

“When we have until the first frost; then there is not much we can do this year,” he said. “We want to control it before larger money will be needed to fix it.”

By a 6-1 vote, the Board of Trustees allocated $5,000 for professional phragmites eradication in the township, a pilot program headed up by Hensel. 

“We got behind the eight ball on this,” Oakland Township Supervisor Terry Gonser said. “It was supposed to happen in August. This is time-sensitive; we have until the first frost. It has changed from appointing a committee to allocating the money.”

Only Oakland Township Treasurer Jeanne Langlois voted against approval, stating phragmites eradication workshops for citizens would be a better option.

“I do not think it should be or is the job of the Oakland Township government to start eradicating phragmities in this fashion,” Langois said. “The township is 36 square miles. Eradication throughout the township, I’m sure, would run into the millions of dollars. I think it is improper for the government to initiate this.”

“Everyone has had these education programs. The response has been less than stellar,” Gonser said. “This is an excellent opportunity. It is not just an Oakland Township project. We have to start somewhere.” 

“I’d like to start seeing some action,” Trustee John Giannangeli said. “Let’s actually try to do something.”