US

Toxic algae clinging to Champlain's shore drives down property values

  • In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, Enid Letourneau looks from the deck of her cottage in Georgia, Vt., at the blue-green algae in St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain. The town recently reduced the value of 34 homes along the shore by $50,000 each because of the algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs. (AP Photo/Lisa  Rathke)

    In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, Enid Letourneau looks from the deck of her cottage in Georgia, Vt., at the blue-green algae in St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain. The town recently reduced the value of 34 homes along the shore by $50,000 each because of the algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, Enid Letourneau, left rear, looks from the deck of her cottage in Georgia, Vt., at the blue-green algae in St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain. The town recently reduced the value of 34 homes along the shore by $50,000 each because of the algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

    In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, Enid Letourneau, left rear, looks from the deck of her cottage in Georgia, Vt., at the blue-green algae in St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain. The town recently reduced the value of 34 homes along the shore by $50,000 each because of the algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, Enid Letourneau, left rear, looks from the deck of her cottage in Georgia, Vt., at the blue-green algae in St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain. The town recently reduced the value of 34 homes along the shore by $50,000 each because of the algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

    In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 photo, Enid Letourneau, left rear, looks from the deck of her cottage in Georgia, Vt., at the blue-green algae in St. Albans Bay on Lake Champlain. The town recently reduced the value of 34 homes along the shore by $50,000 each because of the algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)  (The Associated Press)

The two cottages on the shore of Lake Champlain will someday be passed down to her children but Enid Letourneau worries the algae that turns the shoreline pea-soup green each August means they won't amount to much of an inheritance.

"Would you go swimming in that? Would you let your grandchildren go swimming in there?" Letourneau said, pointing to the water around her dock this week.

The unsightly algae smells so bad it burns her throat, she said — forcing her to keep the windows shut on a summer afternoon.

The algae, which can be toxic to humans and dogs, prompted the town of Georgia to reduce the property values $50,000 each on 34 mostly summer camps on St. Albans Bay, including the two Letourneau and her husband own.

Letourneau figures the town didn't have a choice after nearby St. Albans Town docked the values of some other lakefront homes — but she's not happy about it.

"I was kind of looking forward to being able to leave something for my children," she said. "Maybe they'll clean it up but I don't have a lot of hope."

The toxic algae blooms that kill aquatic life and degrade the water quality on the lake have grown, fed by phosphorus-laden runoff of rain and snowmelt from farms, roads and parking lots and discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this month set a new pollution reduction goal for the Vermont side of the Lake Champlain and state officials said they were already working on long-term plans to meet those goals by keeping pollutants from rivers and streams that feed the lake. EPA scientists have been working with state counterparts for years on the best way to reduce phosphorous runoff into the lake that has been increasing despite decades of efforts and tens of millions of dollars spent.

Algae can be a serious safety issue: Last summer, a bloom on Lake Erie left 400,000 people in Ohio and Michigan without safe tap water for two days. The toxin it produces can cause vomiting, diarrhea or liver damage in extreme cases.

On Lake Champlain, the Letourneaus have owned property on the lake for about 40 years and used to always swim the bay, Letourneau said. Owners of other properties, mostly seasonal camps ranging in price from $77,000 to around $221,000, said they'll take the tax break and deal with the algae as necessary.

Bob McGrath, of Burlington, said he hates to get into the water to move his dock around and if he has to he usually waits for the wind to blow the other direction to move the algae to the other side of the bay. If he and his wife want to swim, they'll boat to nearby islands outside of the bay.

Camp owner Martin Manahan said his children do the same, taking jet skis and a boat into the middle of the bay or open lake.

The lost tax revenue — about $8,000 — "is not going to make us or break us" because of other property valuations and a tax increase, said Assistant Select Board Chairman Matt Crawford.

But Town Administrator Michael McCarthy worries that the lost revenue could be an omen of things to come.

"If we don't fix it and find a fix to it, there's nothing else that can happen except it will get larger," he said. "That's my worry."