By Gwendolyn Craig
State lawmakers are rushing to pass a bill giving conservation officials greater, permanent authority to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Adirondack Park, but time is running out before the current law sunsets.
The proposal would allow authorities to compel motorists with trailered boats to stop at checkpoints when they are open. It would replace lesser precautions authorized a year ago, which expire on June 1. The possible gap in protections is not stopping free and voluntary boat inspections from kicking off this Memorial Day weekend, however.
The old law in question requires boaters recreating in the Adirondack Park to take reasonable precautions against spreading aquatic invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels. Boats should be cleaned, drained and dried to prevent spreading any unwanted hitchhikers. The Adirondack Park is home to more than 3,000 lakes, 8,000 ponds and 1,500 miles of rivers. With more than 12 million visitors each year, the threat of a new invasive species introduction is always looming.
Once an invasive species takes hold in a water body, it is expensive to manage and nearly impossible to remove. Lake George alone spent $500,000 last year managing Eurasian watermilfoil (boat inspections are mandatory on Lake George and Loon Lake).
But the state Department of Environmental Conservation barely enforces the law originally passed in 2016, records show, though the law includes escalating fines for repeat offenders. A first offense gets a warning, while a second offense could bring a fine as high as $150. Additional offenses could lead to fines as high as $1,000.
An amendment proposed with bipartisan support encourages DEC to exercise its authority. It also would make the law permanent. Adirondack Explorer filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the DEC last year for any records of “warnings, violations, fines and tickets” issued by rangers or environmental conservation officers to boaters in the park from 2010 to 2020. The department responded that there were no such records.
“The current program is underutilized by the boating public,” the proposed amendment reads, “and this legislation clearly grants the department the authority to inspect a boat and order decontamination if evidence of aquatic invasive species is found or suspected to be present.”
Dan Kelting, director of Paul Smith’s College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute, oversees
around 60 boat inspection stations in the Adirondack Park. Boat inspectors have no authority to write tickets if boaters launch their watercraft loaded with invasive species. All they can do is call DEC. While it is rare for a boater to reject a voluntary inspection—about 300 people refused last year, out of 125,000 inspections—Kelting said there is a lack of law enforcement and education.
Kelting has also witnessed that in the data. He has compared the number of boats that were cleaned, drained and dried prior to launching into a water body before and after the 2016 law was passed, and there has been no change. If the law was having a positive effect on boater behavior, he said, you would expect to see more compliance.
“It doesn’t mean we have a bad law,” Kelting said. “What it means is nobody knows about it.” Without widespread public education, high-profile enforcement actions or occasional enforcement stops, he said, it’s hard to expect boaters to change what they do.
The law’s amendment, proposed by Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky and co-sponsored by Republican state Sen. Dan Stec, appears to encourage DEC to conduct more education and outreach as well as more enforcement. It currently suggests the DEC establish inspection stations not only in the Adirondack Park, but within a 10-mile radius of the park boundary. DEC “may require vehicles with motorized watercraft to stop at aquatic invasive species inspection stations when such stations are marked as open.” The DEC, according to the draft legislation, may inspect any part of a boat that could be carrying invasive species, including any compartment or container “reasonably believed to harbor water from a water body contaminated with invasive species.”
The amendment would also give DEC the authority to require a boat be washed or
decontaminated. Boats that get washed or decontaminated may also be issued a certificate and a tamperproof tag, only to be removed when launching. It also gives DEC the authority “to promulgate any rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this section.”
When asked whether the DEC would have the manpower and infrastructure to support the law’s proposed amendment, a spokesperson for DEC said the department does not comment on pending legislation.
Meanwhile, Kelting and his team are gearing up for the summer boating season. Free
inspections begin Memorial Day weekend. Kelting isn’t worried about the invasive species transport law expiring, as long as the law is passed and made permanent before the legislative session is over. Either way, he said, the law has no effect on what the Adirondack Watershed Institute does.
“We would still be doing the jobs that we’re doing,” Kelting said.
A spokesperson for Stec said the senator hopes to pass the bill “as soon as possible given the current law’s sunset.” Kelting is confident a law will pass soon. Even if it lapses for a couple of days, Kelting said the risk of transporting invasive species this time of year is low. Many of the invasive aquatic plants are just starting to grow.
The most common culprits that AWI inspectors find in the Adirondacks are Eurasian watermilfoil, variable-leaf milfoil and curly-leaf pondweed. Others that are less common but still of concern are water chestnut, spiny waterfleas, Asian clams and zebra mussels. Invasive aquatic plants can generally grow well and choke out other native species. Sometimes they can hinder boating and swimming. Asian clams and zebra mussels can grow so densely they cut swimmers’ feet or clog up water intake pipes. Spiny waterfleas have been known to muck up fishermen’s lines.
Kelting was also excited to announce that there is a new boat steward stationed on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, and a new steward on Loon Lake in Franklin County. Kelting said the Mirror Lake steward especially will be an opportunity to educate the public in a more urban setting and interact with more people.
To learn more about inspection and decontamination stations across the park, go to