NYS Senate, Assembly bolster efforts to keep invasive species out of waterways
By Gwendolyn Craig
State lawmakers in the assembly and senate unanimously passed a bill this week strengthening and making permanent a law against spreading aquatic invasive species in the Adirondack Park.
Advocacy organizations and local government representatives praised the bill’s passage on Wednesday. Local leaders are optimistic that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign the bill into law, and they hope he will soon. The original law expired on June 1.
The original law the bill bolsters passed in 2014. It required owners of motorized boats recreating in the Adirondack Park to take reasonable precautions against spreading aquatic invasives like Eurasian watermilfoil and fishhook water flea. Boats should be cleaned, drained and dried to prevent spreading these unwanted hitchhikers. The law is focused on the Adirondack Park with its more than 3,000 lakes, 8,000 ponds and 1,500 miles of rivers.
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“Our studies show that 75% of Adirondack waterways surveyed are free of aquatic invasive species,” said Peg Olsen, executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, in a news release. “Protecting the waters that flow from the Adirondacks to other regions of the state enhances the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers and benefits our economy widely.”
Invasive species crowd out native plants and animals, wreaking havoc on ecosystems. They can also grow so widely and densely that things like boating, swimming and fishing become near impossible. Once they get into a waterbody, too, they’re difficult to get out and expensive to manage. The Lake George Park Commission budgets around $500,000 alone on managing Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake George.
The 2014 law would sunset year-to-year, and did so on June 1. But on June 8 the Senate passed a bill amending it to be permanent, and the Assembly did the same on June 9. Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Island, sponsored the bill with Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, as a cosponsor. In the assembly, Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, sponsored the bill.
“We’re happy this law from 2014 is made permanent,” Jones said, in a phone interview with Adirondack Explorer. “It does have a little more teeth into it, so to speak, to make sure we do everything we can to keep aquatic invasive species out of our beautiful lakes and rivers and watersheds here in the Adirondacks.”
Boat inspections bolstered
The “teeth” the law now has gives conservation officials more authority to conduct inspections. The bill states that the state Department of Environmental Conservation may establish inspection stations at any location in the Adirondack Park and within a 10-mile radius of the Blue Line. The law also requires owners and operators of motorized boats, who have not had their boat cleaned, drained and dried, to stop at a boat washing station. Washes and inspections are free and always have been.
At the station, the DEC or boat steward may issue the boat owner an inspection certificate with the name of the inspector, the date, the location, the time of inspection, any preventative measures performed or ordered and whether or not a decontamination of the boat was performed. If a boat is ready for launch, the DEC or boat steward may issue a tamperproof tag on the boat, to be broken only when launched.
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There is a provision in the law that allows boat owners to self-certify that they have cleaned their watercrafts. The law charges DEC with creating the certificate.
The bill also prioritizes educating the public and collecting data on the number of boats inspected and what invasive species they may have been carrying.
The new bill does not increase the fines already in place. A first offense still gets a warning. A second offense could bring a fine as high as $150, and a third offense up to $250. The fourth offense could lead to a fine of up to $1,000.
Making the law permanent was of particular priority for Dan Kelting, director of Paul Smith’s College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute. Kelting oversees around 60 boat inspection stations in the Adirondack Park. Since the 2014 law was passed, Kelting has observed no change in boaters’ behavior for complying with the law, something he can see through the data he has collected. There have been about the same number of dirty boats arriving at inspection stations before the 2014 passage and after.
A freedom of information law request Adirondack Explorer filed last year with the DEC also showed that no fines, tickets or violations connected to this law have been issued to boaters. Kelting said in 2020, about 300 boaters declined an inspection. Of those, about 200 boaters offered no reason to decline. Some boaters refuse inspections, for example, if it’s the first time they’ve taken their boat out for the year. Kelting would like to see the DEC conduct an enforcement weekend so more people know about the law.
Celebrating the passage
Stec thanked the Adirondack Watershed Institute for its work on the issue, in an emailed statement to Adirondack Explorer.
“There’s no question that prevention is the most cost-effective means of protecting our waterbodies,” Stec said. “The better we do, the better the health of our waterways and that’s great for tourism and fishing.”
Following the passage of the bill, members of the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance issued a news release applauding the move. The alliance includes green groups, nonprofits and local government representatives.
Craig Leggett, supervisor of the Town of Chester in Warren County, highlighted the “exceptional state-supported, parkwide system of boat inspectors and decontamination stations that have stopped invasive species in their tracks. This update to the law strengthens an already good program and expands educational resources and opportunities.”
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