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Shining opportunity: Window-cleaning business purges boat of invasive species, sees growth potential

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Boat washing

Chris Kaetzel applies a disinfecting soap solution made with Simple Green to remove possible invasive species from Middlebury College's new research vessel, the R/V David Folger, docked at the Fort Edward Yacht Basin Saturday, September 8, 2012. (Jason McKibben -

FORT EDWARD -- Chris Kaetzel, owner of Shinetime Window Cleaning in Hudson Falls, didn’t plan on being part of the team that creates the method of boat decontamination.

But that’s exactly what he may have done Saturday.

The decontamination of boats has been at the forefront of the region’s invasive species discussion over the past year, a debate that ramped up this summer after the spiny water flea was discovered in Lake George and the Champlain Canal, which links Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

While various government entities considered the political ramifications of implementing washing programs on water bodies like Lake George, Kaetzel and scientists from Middlebury College in Vermont were solving a problem out of need.

Middlebury College’s new research vessel, R/V David Folger, has for weeks been traveling up the Eastern Seaboard bound for Lake Champlain, the entire time potentially collecting invasives on its hull or in its ropes.

“It’s one of those issues where Middlebury College is very concerned about the ecological well-being of Lake Champlain,” said Tom Manley, a geologist at Middlebury, who’s overseeing the transport of the research vessel from Florida to Lake Champlain. “... You don’t find a lot of people who say, ‘My specialty is washing boats.’ ”

The 48-foot floating laboratory spent more than a day in the flea-infested southern Champlain Canal, before reaching apparently clean waters north of the Fort Edward lock.

And that’s when Middlebury’s faculty called Kaetzel.

“This is our first time,” Kaetzel said of the boat-washing, adding he’s confident the craft will be invasive-free when he’s finished.

But it’s what the Middlebury team and Kaetzel are doing on a whim that could have the most long-standing significance for the region.

“There’s really no protocols for this in Vermont or New York,” Manley said. “We’re hopefully finding a solution for everyone.”

While chlorine is considered best at killing stowaway invaders, it would have to be used in such high concentrations, it could kill indigenous plants and animals and potentially damage the hull, Manley said.

The scientists and Kaetzal finally settled on a disinfecting soap solution that should make the boat’s hull too slippery for attached species to cling.

The boat’s crew cleaned the bilge tanks with bleach and water to clean any invaders potentially sucked into the system, Manley said. All the boat’s ropes were soaked in chlorine and the maps were disinfected.

Kaetzel, with his high-pressure washers, said he never planned on going into the boat-washing business. But the heightened awareness of invasive species has him mulling a new business opportunity.

“This could really become something,” he said.

The R/V David Folger is expected to sail for the first time on Lake Champlain on Sunday.


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