Lake George will become the first major lake in the eastern United States to require mandatory boat inspections to keep waterborne invasive species out of the lake.
The Lake George Park Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to make boats arriving by trailer from other water bodies subject to mandatory inspections, and to decontamination washings if needed.
The program will likely start in 2014.
A copy of the draft regulations is available on the In the Adirondacks blog.
Read the initial variety of plans and the draft generic environmental impact statement on the Capital Region Scene blog.
Lake George would become the first lake east of Minnesota to have mandatory boat inspections. There are several recreational lakes in the West, including Lake Tahoe, that use them because of invasive species concerns.
Officials here want to keep out the quagga mussel, hydrilla plant and other disruptive species that haven’t reached Lake George but are found elsewhere in the Northeast.
“This is a great day for Lake George, no doubt, and all who care about its precious waters,” said Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George, which advocated for the inspection program.
A mandatory inspection system will build on a voluntary inspection system established last year, which was expanded this year.
“It’s been illegal to launch a boat with invasive species on it since 1988,” commission Chairman Bruce E. Young said after the meeting. “This is just more effective enforcement.”
The vote Tuesday at The Georgian Resort in Lake George starts a public rule-making process that will eventually require approval by the governor’s office. Draft rules could be posted as soon as today on the park commission’s website, commission Executive Director Dave Wick said.
Public hearings on draft rules would be held in September, with the goal of having an inspection system in place before the 2014 boating season.
The decision concluded a two-year effort to determine the best strategy for keeping invasive species out of the 32-mile-long lake, where millions of dollars have already been spent battling the Asian clam, spiny water flea, zebra mussel and Eurasian milfoil.
Some environmental advocates see what Lake George will be doing as a system that could be applied to other lakes.
“Invasives education, coupled with prevention in the form of mandatory boat inspection and decontamination, circumvent expensive rapid response control measures and prevent the introduction of invasive species,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “This plan can prevent environmental degradation in Lake George.”
Mandatory inspections were identified as a preferred alternative in an environmental impact study last spring and were supported by most speakers at public hearings held in May and June.
Under the plan prepared by consultant The LA Group of Saratoga Springs, boat inspection stations would be established in Lake George, Bolton, Hague, Ticonderoga and Queensbury. Boats would be inspected and a tag attached if they pass. Hot-water decontamination would be available.
Municipalities around the lake have supported mandatory inspections, seeing them as a way to keep out species that could overrun the lake’s ecology and diminish the attractiveness of the lake, an economically important recreational destination.
“This is a monumental moment, a celebratory moment as far as we’re concerned,” said Dennis Dickinson, Lake George town supervisor.
The S.A.V.E. Lake George Partnership, which included communities around the lake and the Fund for Lake George, has pledged to provide $350,000 a year for the program — about half the funding needed.
Other sources of funding are still being determined, but the state’s Environmental Protection Fund is a possibility, officials said. At least initially, it’s unlikely boaters would be charged at the launch sites.
Mandatory inspections will build on a voluntary system started at the lake in 2012. Stewards paid for by the Lake George Association are stationed at major launch points to inspect boats and educate their owners about threats to the lake. Boat-washing machines are located at some launch sites.
Through the July 4 weekend, there had been 2,671 boats inspected and 18 instances of aquatic invasive species discovered, said Walt Lender, executive director of the Lake George Association.
“We’ve removed 18 invasive species from boats already this year,” Lender said. “That points out how important this program is.”
Most boat operators are cooperative with the 10-minute inspection process, Lender said.
Young said the current system is a template for how mandatory inspections would work. “We’re very close to it this year, except it’s voluntary,” he said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which operates three public boat launches on the lake, had previously expressed concern about how a mandatory inspection system would work. But on Tuesday, DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann — acting as the agency’s representative on the commission — voted in favor of it.
He said the department wants to move the process forward to rule-making and public comment, while the environmental impact study on invasive species prevention continues.
“We’re interested in controlling invasive species in Lake George. It’s very important,” Stegemann said.
A remaining point of contention is how to deal with early morning and evening launches, which are preferred by some sport fishermen.
“We need to close that loophole,” said Siy. “What happens at public boat launches has to set the example.”
“That still needs to be worked out,” Young acknowledged. “The boat launch operators will work on it.”
About 16,000 boats are registered annually to use the lake, a number officials don’t think will change because of the new rules.
Wick said experience in the West would indicate that the imposition of inspections won’t cut the number of boaters using Lake George.
“Boating on Lake George isn’t an experience you can get anywhere else in the country,” he said.