The public can weigh in today on a proposal to impose mandatory prelaunch boat inspections in an effort to keep invasive species out of Lake George.
The Lake George Park Commission will hold the first of two public hearings on its proposed invasive species prevention plan at 2 p.m. today at the Fort William Henry Conference Center in Lake George.
A second hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, at the Best Western in Ticonderoga.
The draft plan calls for a “preferred alternative” of establishing five inspection and decontamination stations around the lake, where boats from other bodies of water would have to stop before they could launch.
Eleven western states allow mandatory boat inspections to control the spread of invasive species, but Lake George would be the first place it would be done east of Minnesota.
“Lake George is a crown jewel of the region, and we have to do everything we can to protect it,” said Eric Siy, executive director of The Fund for Lake George, which helps pay for the fight currently in progress against invasives.
Boats that have picked up invasive species from elsewhere are believed to be a significant source of contamination.
The park commission, which is a state agency, could agree to the mandatory inspection plan, or it could decide on stepped-up voluntary efforts, said David Wick, the commission’s executive director.
“Right now, we’re not sure which way the commission will go,” he said. “They will look at factors like practicality and cost-effectiveness.”
Lake George has problems with invasives including Eurasian watermilfoil, the Asian clam, spiny water flea and zebra mussels. Millions of dollars have been spent on eradication measures.
Lake protection groups point out that there are invasives found elsewhere in New York that haven’t yet reached Lake George: species such as the quagga mussel and hydrilla, an African plant that can cover a lake floor, overwhelming native plants.
“As we learn more about invasives and the destructive impacts they can have on water bodies, the more we realize we have to do everything we can to prevent them,” Siy said.
Under the proposed plan, which has been developed over the past 18 months by consultants The LA Group of Saratoga Springs, boat inspection stations would be developed in Lake George, Bolton, Hague, Ticonderoga and Queensbury. At the stations, boats would be inspected and a tag attached if they pass. Hot water decontamination would be available at the sites.
Siy said the Fund for Lake George believes the system is needed. “It’s the only way to go. It’s the one-two punch of inspections and decontamination,” he said.
The commission’s study estimates the cost of setting up the inspection system at $300,000, and the annual operating costs at about $700,000.
The funding sources haven’t been identified, but boaters would also certainly see registration fees rise. A doubling of boat registration fees — about $35 per year for boats under 25 feet, more for larger boats — would raise $550,000, the study estimates.
About 16,000 boats are registered to use the lake, but it is estimated only about one-third use other bodies of water as well.
The owners of boats subject to inspection would also pay — something along the lines of $40 per season, Wick said.
Public comments on the draft plan will be taken through June 25. Wick said the commission will develop responses to public comments before making a final decision.
A mandatory inspection program would require a change in park rules and also approval by the state Legislature, so it’s uncertain when an inspection program would start.
“2014 is a tight time frame if we’re going to go that way,” Wick said.
The proposal has been criticized by fishermen concerned about access to the lake outside normal business hours, but Wick said he believes those concerns can be addressed.
For this year’s boating season, there will be an increased number of voluntary inspection and boat wash stations, and a continuation of the Lake George Association’s boat steward program.
The draft plan and accompanying environmental impact statement are available on the commission website: www.lgpc.state.ny.us.