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Hundreds of fish die in Buffalo Trace Park lake

More than 500 fish in the Buffalo Trace Park lake died last week following the release of a chemical in the 30-acre, man-made lake east of Palmyra. An additional 50 to 100 fish were found dead yesterday. Indiana Conservation Officers are continuing their investigation into what caused the fish to die.
Park maintenance worker George Moore said Monday that he was instructed last Tuesday to put chemicals in the lake to kill the algae. He said he questioned the amount but was assured by an employee who has been with the parks department since June that it was OK.
Moore said he also questioned whether the lake should be closed to swimmers because the chemical being put in the lake could cause a skin rash.
‘I was concerned about the safety of the children,’ he said.
Again, he was assured there was no danger.
The next day, ‘the fish were coming up to the banks by the thousands,’ starved for oxygen, Moore said.
Bass and bluegill are the most common fish in the lake.
Moore, who had worked at the park about two weeks, suggested to other park employees that the living fish be transferred to a nearby pond. Moore first believed the pond was on park property but later learned it was not.
He spent most of Wednesday moving fish. He said he moved 200 ‘big’ fish and between 2,000 and 3,000 smaller fish.
‘I didn’t want to see a bunch of fish dying,’ he said.
Indiana Conservation Officers were notified of the dying fish on Thursday.
C.O. Jim Hash, who is assigned to Harrison County, said the Indiana State Police Post at Sellersburg relayed information to him and Floyd County Conservation Officer Gary Pennington about the incident after the ISP Jasper Post received a call.
The two officers went to Buffalo Trace Park to begin their investigation Thursday.
‘It’s an ongoing investigation,’ said Hash, who provided few details.
Personnel from the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management took water samples from the lake Thursday evening.
Hash added that anyone using any type of chemical around water should read and carefully follow all labels. Most products have ‘all kinds of warnings’ on the packaging relating to aquatic animals.
Claudia Howard, director of the Harrison County Parks Dept., said yesterday morning that the lake was closed to swimmers and anglers one day, after the fish began dying.
She said ‘a small amount of the chemical’ had been added about one week after the lake ‘turned over,’ a natural occurrence that happens as the oxygen level lowers in a still body of water.
Moore, who used to raise fish, told conservation officers that two bags were put in the lake, when one bag probably would have been sufficient.
‘We were a little concerned,’ Howard said. The parks department had the Harrison County Health Dept. test the water; the results showed ‘very low’ levels of the chemical remaining in the lake.
Herb Schneider, manager of Buffalo Trace, said yesterday afternoon that he is unsure why the fishing are dying. There were several things going on pertaining to the lake, which he says turned over about two weeks ago, including the addition of the chemical last week and the spraying of a weed killer around the park’s parking lot.
‘Apparently the oxygen level is still low,’ Schneider said. He added that test results show no chemicals remaining in the water.
The park department voluntarily closed the lake for the one day, Thursday.
Yesterday morning, Hash received a phone call from a park board member, who reported another 50 to 100 fish were found dead in the lake that morning.
Moore was terminated as a park employee Monday morning. He said two incidents were reported as cause for his dismissal.
The first allegedly happened Friday. ‘I weed-eated the grass,’ he said, and has witnesses, which include Hash and Pennington, who saw him. But Moore said it was reported that he did not do his assigned task that day.
‘They said I didn’t, but I did,’ he said.
On Monday, he arrived 10 minutes late for work. When he was hired, Moore said, he was told his hours would be 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but because of the heat, employees have been starting work at 7 a.m.
Moore, who lives with his sister and her family, told his supervisor that he might not be able to make it to work by 7. He said he was told he could work later than everyone else, until he got his time in.
After he arrived at 7:10 a.m. Monday, Moore was notified that he was being dismissed, that he was 10 minutes late. Moore said according to his official hours he was 50 minutes early.
Schneider confirmed yesterday that Moore had been terminated as an employee.
‘But he was not let go because of the lake situation,’ he said without elaborating.
Moore said he was accused of calling state officials, an accusation he denies. He said Monday that he intends to contact an attorney, as a ‘matter of principle.’
Buffalo Trace Park lake remains open to swimmers through Sunday, Aug. 15. After that, it will be open for swimming on Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day.