Airport has new weapon to fight noxious weeds

Aquatic weed harvester slices plants, off loads them on the pond's shore

Posted: Friday, July 11, 2008

In the fight against weeds growing in the airport's pond used by floatplanes, the weeds came out on top in previous years.

Micheal Penn / Juneau Empire
Micheal Penn / Juneau Empire

Airport manager Dave Palmer said staff tried herbicide, an underwater cable towed by a boat and a homemade rake deployed by a backhoe without much success.

The unwelcome weeds can get tangled up in the steering controls of the float planes and they also attract unwanted water fowl near the planes, Palmer said. But they may have met their match in the airport's latest weapon in the war: a 20-year-old aquatic weed harvester.

The harvester floats on a small barge and is powered by two paddle wheels. Its front looks somewhat like a bulldozer, with blades that slice up the weeds and a conveyer belt that sends them to the rear of the machine, to be offloaded on the pond's shore.

One person sits on top of the machine to steer and control the machine's cutting blades.

"It's not real complicated," said airport staffer Norman Hales as he was tying up the machine Thursday after unloading what looked like several pounds of weeds.

Palmer said the machine is working far better than previous years' efforts to eradicate weeds in the pond.

"It's satisfying. It's like mowing the lawn," he said. "You can see it coming up."

The machine has been in use for about a month, Palmer said. He said the used machine cost $17,500, compared to $120,000 for a new one.

Next year, construction plans call for dredging the pond, Palmer said. The two-year process will make the pond deeper, and Palmer said he hopes it will mean less weeds.

But if there's still a need for the harvester, Palmer said he'll keep it around. If not, he said he plans to sell it.

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