Sunday, July 11, 2021

It’s Debatable: Should New York enforce boat inspections?

Adirondack Watershed Institute boat stewardEditor’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

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

26 Responses

  1. Kevin says:

    Please make it mandatory. Invasives can destroy a lake and cost lake property owners a fortune to clean it up all because a one or two non locals didn’t care

  2. nathan says:

    need a dipping station at every launch, charge like $5 and boat is back in dip to launch level, and then hire a few people to make sure every boat/trailer dips before and after launch to kill invasives.. simpliest way to ensure. $5 for dip is reasonable, pays for dip and staff

  3. Everett McNeill says:

    We had a boat attempt to launch on Schroon Lake loaded with zebra mussels so bad that it had to be decontaminated twice. The boat owner was obnoxious and gave the stewards a hard time. DEC did not fine or from what we uderstand did not persue it. We are fortunate that on Schroon we still have only two aquatic species- Eurasian Milfoil and Curly Pond Weed. The boat inspection / steward / decontamination process is key to keeping us pretty much invasive free. We also have 25 volunteer “scouts” who survey the lake for invasives along with hired professional divers who harvest 4 weeks every summer. Most folks understand the need for inspections but there is a small percentage that still don’t get it. NYS, local municipalities and lake associations spend millions on keeping our lakes invasive free. The small percentage who ignore the law should be penalized to help offset the costs of prevention and remediation. No enforcement, no teeth!

  4. ADKresident2 says:

    “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.” Well, if they truly want to do the right thing, then they’ll get their boats inspected and a process that insures that happens isn’t “trampling on their rights.” Jerry seems to have the “no one can tell me what to do or require any sacrifice no matter how minimal or justified for the public good” philosophy. Maybe try being just a little less selfish.

    • ashherk says:

      I totally agree. Selfishness will ruin the beautiful land/environment that we love.

  5. ashherk says:

    Yes. Although ‘data has shown that most boat owners do the right thing,” the ones that don’t spread invasive species and will ruin the beautiful Adirondacks. Also curious to see that data source.

  6. Todd Eastman says:

    Mr. Delaney’s objections have nothing to do with the 4th Amendment, except as using the 4th to play the political “victim” card. The same logic in claiming the 4th, would make speeding on highways illegal, but only enforceable on the Northway while drivers scream along other highways at breakneck speeds.

    The considered application of statutes and regulations that are implemented to protect our environmental resources are a reasonable use of the powers granted to NYS under the Constitution.

    I’m sure Texas would be a more suitable place for commercial invasive production… ?

  7. Bert says:

    Who inspects the ducks and geese .

  8. Joan Grabe says:

    Illegal search and seizure ? Anyone who knows anything about our Constitution knows that the original Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments were to amend holes in the original document that did not cover certain topics that arose.
    The founding fathers never saw a power boat nor were they aware of invasive species per se but we are and it is wholly within the states’s powers to enact laws to control these invaders. Why would any fun loving law abiding boat owner object to a mandatory boat cleaning that helped keep the waters he was about to use free and clear of invasives ? Even if it costs $5.00 ? The scofflaws and malcontents who buzz past cleaning stations or write spurious rebuttals in defense of their “ Right”to pollute, to despoil and annoy the rest of us should be ostracized as the invasive species they are.

  9. Paul says:

    The state doesn’t even seem to care enough to put a pressure washer at large ramps. Also, I have been having my boat and trailer inspected by this person at the Lake Flower launch in SL every time I have used it this summer. He didn’t tell me it was an option? He just did it. Sounds “mandatory” already?

  10. Paul says:

    I am not sure this will really work anyway. I guess it would help cut things back. The Adirondack lake I grew up on had at least 4 private launches that I know of. Are you going to have inspectors at these? Are we going to ask a private business like a marina to pay for this? This is more complicated than people realize.

  11. Harold Jurewicz says:

    Jerry seems to have some common sense about himself. I am a ADK boater and get my boat looked at whenever an inspector is present, if not I always check myself for hitchhikers on the boat or trailer. 99% of the time my boat is in the same body of water, but I still check. Unwarranted search is a violation of my 4th Amendment right and I would be far from happy about it happening!

  12. I don’t hear anybody screaming that annual state vehicle safety inspections are an “illegal search and seizure”. Why should boats be any different considering the damage that one heedless person can cause.

  13. Bob Meyer says:

    Mr. Delaney’s reasoning is both specious and lack understanding of what our Constitution and Bill of Rights [4th amendment] actually say and mean. Several other commenters here have given analogues examples that both from a legal and societal point of view back this up.
    Most disappointing is that undertone of selfishness under the [above false] guise of the 4th Amendment. It’s that ‘you can’t make me’ attitude, even though his actions may harm others and the land all New Yorkers own, that is frankly shameful.

  14. Trevor Sussey says:

    Only takes one boat to alter the lake permanently.

  15. Dale F Jeffers says:

    Mr Delaney needs some education.

  16. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Everett McNeill says: “there is a small percentage that still don’t get it.”

    Yep, always that small percent! The anti-science bunch who know every ‘thing’, and while they’re at it, they think they know what is best for everyone else too. When I was up in the Adirondacks on the 23rd June, I talked to Josh who was at a boat inspection station at the pull-off across from Lake Durant at Blue Mountain Lake. He told me then that he heard that by that date they had cleaned at least 500 boats with invasive species attached to them. Whether that was just in the Adirondacks or the whole state I am uncertain, but either way….that is a high number! Imagine if there were no inspection stations at all!

  17. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The difference in the Adirondacks will be that boaters must be able to prove it.”

    Some of us just despise laws, rules and regulations! “Less government is the best government” they shout out! Their way or the highway come hell or high water! There’s darned good reasons why we need laws. Imagine if we were left to our own devices all of us, or the wrong one’s of us! Laws are necessary, if only to limit the evil passions of ignorant and/or selfish men and women so as to prevent the afflictions they are inclined to inflict upon the rest of us.

    Boaters in the Adirondacks must now be able to prove that their boats have been cleaned, drained and dry before entering those waters. If boaters were responsible, respectful, and high-minded, they would have no qualms with these new regulations. I think it’s going to take a lot more doing to prevent invasive’s from entering our waters. We should have thought about this long before the problem started arising. But then, we never were too good at getting past a few years at most in terms of economy, which is what this is all about as it always has been and will be.

  18. Charlie Stehlin says:

    ” 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.”

    When Jerry Delaney says ‘No’ to the question, “Should New York enforce boat inspections?” he has in his mind very limited & (evidently) conservative views. It’s about his constituents (or votes) who generally are “all about them,” and who are known to greatly exhibit their thoughts on not being told what to do (though they like to tell others what they could or should not do) no matter how much what they do may affect others or other living things. This comes off as hyper-partisan I know, but it is historically true no matter how much of a defense, or how much denying there is about it!

    A psychological vacuum cannot be shaken for the life of some constituents, or their masters, and it is my hope they get over themselves soon as we don’t have much more time to wake up and correct this most dangerous course we are on. Of course I say this from a visionary perspective (it’s not about me!) as I just cannot help but think what kind of world our progeny will be living in what with the way we unceasingly go on about our egocentric business.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      So, in a nutshell…

      … the conservatives are acting like petulant children on the boat inspection issue.

      Apple doesn’t fall far from the Trump Nut Tree…?

      • Charlie Stehlin says:

        Jerry Delaney, whom I assume is conservative, not that that’s always bad, but their record is horrendous generally speaking which most of the world got to see the past four years prior to January. That is of course if you appreciate & respect nature, clean water, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bridges, other cultures, voter’s rights…………

        Every ‘thing’ is political, we’re all political prisoners to some or another extent! Jerry certainly hints of his political persuasion when he says “no” to boat inspections while at the same time saying, “I’m not against boat inspections” which seems to me contradictory. Which is it? He doesn’t support people’s rights being trampled on…is why he says “no” to boat inspections, and at the same time he is aware that, “the vast majority of boaters want to do the right thing.” Yeah but! What about those few who can give two hoots about invasives on Adirondack waters Mr. Delaney? Let us cater to them right!”

        Delaney says: “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.”

        > If I had a boat I would have no qualms allowing state inspectors making sure my boat didn’t have monsters attached to it Mr. Delaney! How unselfish of me, hey?

      • Mike says:

        Sums it up pretty good Todd.

  19. Ken says:

    Where have these in face of species originated from? Other countries? Who is inspecting and cleaning the holes of the container ships that are bringing them through the St. Lawrence seaway.

  20. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Who is inspecting and cleaning the holes of the container ships that are bringing them through the St. Lawrence seaway.”

    Our desire to travel, or our desire for tropical species to be planted in our gardens or submerged in our fish tanks, or terrariums, and other…. is why we have invasives Ken. The Chestnut blight started in the Bronx Zoo from a plant imported from another country if I got that right. Knowing the history of “invasives” we should be inspecting more, or paying people to inspect more, but the cheap way out of just about all we do nowadays won’t allow such. In short… our priorities, have been, and always will be backwards (think ‘money first’)……is why we have invasives. Is why manatee’s in Florida are dying at record numbers right now!