Legislature passes measure targeting invasive species

Gwendolyn Craig for Times Union

Originally published in Times Union

ALBANY — The state Legislature unanimously passed a bill this week strengthening and making permanent a law against spreading aquatic invasive species in the Adirondack Park.

Advocacy organizations and local government representatives praised the bill’s passage on Wednesday. Local leaders said they are optimistic that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will sign the bill into law. The original law expired on June 1. 

The legislation buttresses a law passed in 2014 that required owners of motorized boats in the Adirondack Park to take reasonable precautions against spreading aquatic invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil and fishhook water flea. Boats should be cleaned, drained and dried to prevent spreading these unwanted hitchhikers. The law is focused on the Adirondack Park with its more than 3,000 lakes, 8,000 ponds and 1,500 miles of rivers.

“Our studies show that 75 percent of Adirondack waterways surveyed are free of aquatic invasive species,” said Peg Olsen, executive director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. “Protecting the waters that flow from the Adirondacks to other regions of the state enhances the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers and benefits our economy widely.”

Invasive species crowd out native plants and animals, wreaking havoc on ecosystems. They can also grow so widely and densely that things like boating, swimming and fishing become near impossible. Once they get into a waterbody, too, they’re difficult to get out and expensive to manage. The Lake George Park Commission budgets around $500,000 annually managing Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake George.

The 2014 law would sunset year-to-year, and did so on June 1. But on June 8 the Senate passed a bill amending it to be permanent, and the Assembly did the same on June 9. Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Island, sponsored the bill with Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, a cosponsor. IAssemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, also sponsored the bill.

“We’re happy this law from 2014 is made permanent,” Jones said. “It does have a little more teeth into it, so to speak, to make sure we do everything we can to keep aquatic invasive species out of our beautiful lakes and rivers and watersheds here in the Adirondacks.”

The bill states that the state Department of Environmental Conservation may establish inspection stations at any location in the Adirondack Park and within a 10-mile radius of the Blue Line. The law also requires owners and operators of motorized boats, who have not had their boat cleaned, drained and dried, to stop at a boat washing station. Washes and inspections are free and always have been.

At the station, the DEC or boat steward may issue the boat owner an inspection certificate with the name of the inspector, the date, the location, the time of inspection, any preventative measures performed or ordered and whether or not a decontamination of the boat was performed. If a boat is ready for launch, the DEC or boat steward may issue a tamperproof tag on the boat, to be broken only when launched.

There is a provision in the law that allows boat owners to self-certify that they have cleaned their watercrafts. The law charges DEC with creating the certificate.

The bill also prioritizes educating the public and collecting data on the number of boats inspected and what invasive species they may have been carrying.

Craig Leggett, supervisor of the Town of Chester in Warren County, highlighted the “exceptional state-supported, parkwide system of boat inspectors and decontamination stations that have stopped invasive species in their tracks. This update to the law strengthens an already good program and expands educational resources and opportunities.”