LAKE GEORGE -- The program to prevent invasive species from getting into Lake George examined a record number of boats in 2018 despite facing staffing shortages, the Lake George Park Commission reported this week.
The program, which includes mandatory inspection for all boats coming from other waters and decontamination when necessary, had contact with 32,019 boats, did 10,617 entrance and 13,447 exit inspections, and decontaminated 1,601 boats, according to the just-released annual report of the Lake George Aquatic Invasive Species Program.
The total inspections were the highest in the five years of the inspection program, though the number of boats requiring decontamination was the lowest since the program's first year, in 2014.
"It was a pretty busy year and we did it with not as many people as we would like, so there was some stress for the staff," said Dave Wick, executive director of the park commission.
The requirement to prevent spread of invasive species is that boats arrive at the lake "cleaned, drained and dry." While the commission has worked hard to get that message out to the public, Wick said one in seven boats on average still requires decontamination, which is done with high-pressure hot water.
Since the program started, no new invasive species have been found in the lake. It is known to have five invasives -- Eurasian watermilfoil, curlyleaf pondweed, zebra mussel, Asian clam, and spiny water flea. There are other invasives, however, that haven't reached the lake. Invasives, the report said, can disrupt lake ecology, affect recreation for boaters, fishermen and swimmers, and incur significant costs to manage.
"At this stage in the game, 99 percent of people coming to Lake George know about the program and they have no problem with compliance because they realize the importance of the program," Wick said.
The inspection program has operated at seven locations around the lake between May 1 and Oct. 31, including Million Dollar Beach, Dunham's Bay Marina, Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing, Hulett's Landing Marina, Roger's Rock state campground, and Mossy Point in Ticonderoga.
The busiest inspection point was Million Dollar Beach, where there were 32,019 boater contacts and 3,608 entrance inspections. The most common water bodies the boats were previously in were the Hudson River, Saratoga Lake, Long Island Sound and Lake Champlain.
The transfer station site in the town of Lake George was discontinued after Labor Day due to decreased use, and the commission expects to close it entirely next year when the state will have a new boat inspection station operating at the Northway Exit 18 rest area. That inspection station will be funded and staffed by the Adirondack Invasive Species Prevention Program.
Officials plan to raise wages for inspectors by a dollar per hour next year, after facing shortages last summer in trying to fill 50-55 positions. Most of those hired are recent retirees, with most of the rest being college students.
"The minimum wage is going up, and we had a really hard time last year, like everyone else, attracting people," Wick said.
The starting wage will be raised from $11 to $12 per hour. With the closure of the transfer station site saving money, the park commission hopes to increase wages without having to increase the program's $630,000 annual budget.
The program has been funded with $350,000 from the state Environmental Protection Fund, $100,000 from Warren County, and $30,000 contributions from the towns of Lake George, Bolton and Queensbury, the village of Lake George, the Fund for Lake George and the Lake George Association.