BELLINGHAM - Boats of all shapes and sizes will need permits to use Lake Whatcom this summer.
Although details are far from final, city officials are talking about a $50 annual permit or a $20 day pass that boat owners will get after their vessels pass inspection to make sure they are not introducing invasive species into the lake.
At a Monday, Feb. 25, committee meeting, City Council members agreed to hold a March 11 public hearing on an ordinance that would impose the fees. Council members indicated they may also want to talk about whether the permit fees should be the same for all sizes of boat.
The fees are meant to recover the estimated $227,000 cost of inspections.
Boat owners whose vessels are found to harbor invasive species could get their vessels decontaminated at the Bloedel Donovan Park boat launch for an additional $25, under the early draft of the plan that council discussed Monday.
Concerns about the threat to Lake Whatcom shot up in late 2011 after the Asian clam was found in Lake Whatcom and Lake Padden. The clams are not causing noticeable problems as yet, but city and county officials fear that the clam infestation means the lake also could be vulnerable to zebra and quagga mussels, which can carpet lake bottoms, foul vessels and clog public water intake systems.
The city and county councils have already passed ordinances imposing fines on anyone who introduces a long list of potentially harmful species into the lake. Now, the city and county are moving toward setting up the permit and inspection system to enforce that law while also keeping the harmful species out of the lake.
Assistant City Public Works Director Jon Hutchings said the goal is to get the permit and inspection system in place by April 27, 2013.
If all goes as planned, both city and county will pass essentially identical laws setting up the boat permit, inspection and fee program all around the lake. Only the northernmost fraction of the lake is inside the city limits, but most boat launching occurs at the city-operated launch at Bloedel Donovan.
So far, the zebra and quagga mussels haven't show up in Washington, Oregon or Idaho, but they are well-established in parts of Utah and California.
Washington Fish and Wildlife agents have intercepted contaminated boats within the state, including a 2010 case in which a 50-foot contaminated cabin cruiser from Lake Michigan had been hauled to Blaine.