Editor’s note: This “It’s Debatable” column is running in the July/August 2021 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine. Click here to subscribe. This issue’s debaters don’t fit neatly into the Explorer’s usual yes/no format, as both support inspections of some kind. We’ve attempted to frame the question in a way to reflect their nuanced views.
The question: Should New York enforce boat inspections?
By John Sheehan, Adirondack Council
On June 9, the hard work of many Adirondack residents and organizations paid off when the New York Legislature granted approval to a bill designed to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Special thanks are due to the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance, which made passing this bill a priority. The bill had broad support already. The CGA’s efforts brought it unanimous approval in both houses of the Legislature.
Thanks are also due to bill sponsors Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, and Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, who bridged the gaps between competing versions of a new bill. Together, they took the law that expired on June 1 and made it permanent statewide. They also improved it inside the Adirondack Park.
So, when the governor signs this bill, all New York boaters will once again be obliged to ensure that their watercrafts are free from invasive species prior to launch. In short, all boats will have to be clean, drained and dry before entering any New York waters. The difference in the Adirondacks will be that boaters must be able to prove it.
That is an important distinction. Prior to this, only boaters entering Lake George and Loon Lake (Chestertown) were required to prove that their boats and trailers were inspected first. As a result, boats heading to other waters often breezed past the roadside boat-inspection stations without stopping. Adirondack Council staff surveys showed 80% to 90% of boaters avoiding inspection stations, even when those boaters had already stopped at the rest area or gas station where the inspection station was located.
So even though there was a law in place from June of 2014 through June of 2021 instructing boaters to decontaminate their crafts, lots of people didn’t bother. Anyone who avoided compliance with the “clean, drained and dry rule” was breaking the law, but the state did nothing to enforce it. Some folks hoped that education and a law alone would be enough to stop the spread of invasive species. It wasn’t.
Year after year, new infestations continued as zebra mussels, Asian clams, spiny waterfleas and fishhook waterfleas, Eurasian Watermilfoil, hydrilla, water chestnuts and other aggressive, non-native species spread to new host waters. In each place they touched, they became a permanent part of the ecosystem.
Invasive plants and animals can’t be removed without the risk of killing a wide array of native, non-target plants or all animals. Invasive species prey upon or out-compete native plants and animals. They thrive here because the Adirondacks lack the competitors, predators and diseases that limit their success in their native ecosystems back home.
The Adirondack Park contains most of the state’s lakes and rivers, and most of its rarest and most vulnerable plant and animal species. Herbicides and poisons can cause unacceptable collateral damage. Non-toxic control methods require meticulous care and constant oversight, and can cost communities dearly.
Towns around the Lake George basin paid millions of dollars a year on control methods for weeds alone prior to mandating boat inspections. Now, despite still hosting some 20,000 boats from other waters a year, Lake George’s alarming annual parade of new infestations has halted.
So, enforcement should be part of our strategy throughout the park. I believe the rest of the state will do the same soon—once they see how well enforcement works here. Seventeen other states already have.
It’s hard to judge when limits on our freedoms are necessary. It took a while for Dutch settlers in Manhattan to understand that not everyone could graze their cattle on the public square. Teddy Roosevelt taught us that shooting deer year-round was unsustainable. We established seasons. Overuse in the High Peaks Wilderness has brought new management strategies.
Boaters will adjust quickly to the new requirements. After all, invasive species harm recreation too. It’s in everyone’s best interest to enforce the law.
John Sheehan is the director of communications for the Adirondack Council
By Jerry Delaney, Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board
Let me start off by saying that I’m not against boat inspections, but I do not support the idea of trampling on people’s rights when the data show the vast majority of boaters want to do the right thing.
I was among the local officials, primarily from Warren County, that went to Albany to consult with the governor’s office, which created the pilot Aquatic Invasive Species program in partnership with Lake George. It is important to point out that none of the current noisemakers were in the room, nor did they seem interested in the plight of our lakes. We were pushing a huge stone uphill, alone. We were able to convince the governor’s office of the importance of the need to protect our water bodies. From that initial pilot program, we were able to help create a voluntary program in the Adirondacks.
The recent rhetoric surrounds a certain non- government organization’s desire to ignore the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution. This has not been about science, it has been about the first bill introduced in the Senate that stated DEC may stop any boat, search the exterior of the watercraft, and search the interior of the watercraft including any compartments or receptacles that could hold water. This clearly was against the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures. When this was pointed out to the nongovernment organization, it was brushed aside. It seemed they wanted to stop boats, all boats.
Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) spent many hours speaking with the NGO, scientists and local officials. From those discussions he was able to craft a bill, despite the ill-advised noise, that protected us all from people that saw no reason why, the people of, or the visitors to the Adirondacks should be protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Let’s applaud Assemblyman Jones, and the Assembly staff who thoughtfully crafted a bill that asks DEC to use the science and data collected in the last five years to alter the current program to be more efficient, and better protect our waters and correct ambiguous language around where the law applies.
His bill makes it the responsibility of boaters to have their boats inspected and washed before launching when wash stations are open while allowing tagging of clean drained and dried boats to continue.
Local governments who have had to pay to keep aquatic invasive species at bay, lake associations who have asked their town boards to create a special district tax to keep their lakes clean, local entities who have worked on their lakes, and scientists all support Assemblyman Jones’ bill.
The bill also increases the educational component. No one should expect the public to properly understand the threat, and management techniques without education of what Aquatic Invasive Species are, and how to recognize them.
It has balance. We cannot stop the spread without the public’s help. This bill invites the public to engage, rather than be punished for having a boat.
Only .03% of boaters decline inspection. Most if not all of these boaters know they are clean, drained and dry, or launching into the same lake they were last in. What is a mandatory law going to fix? The program works! The people of, and the visitors to the Adirondacks do not need to be singled out to have their rights trampled on because an NGO wants mandatory boat washing.
The data exists for all lakes with boat stewards, which tells us what the peak times for boats launching and leaving lakes are. DEC could simply have conservation officers and forest rangers randomly visit these boat launches at these times when they can. This will send a clear message to boaters that DEC is serious about our lakes. It will prompt most people to take invasive species prevention more seriously.
No, we don’t need a mandatory stop-and-search policy, but it is mandatory that we engage the boating public as part of the solution.
Jerry Delaney is executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board and councilman for the Town of Saranac.
Photo of Adirondack Watershed Institute boat steward/Almanack file photo