BELLINGHAM - City Council members still hope to avoid a taxpayer subsidy of the boat inspection plan for Lake Whatcom, but they have yet to reach agreement with the Whatcom County Council on how much boaters will pay for a legally required inspection sticker.
At a Monday, March 25, committee discussion, City Council members appeared to be moving toward a boat inspection ordinance that would allow the city's public works director to set the inspection sticker price, with an eye toward covering the estimated annual cost of about $140,000 for the program.
The goal of the inspections is to head off the introduction of destructive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, into the lake.
A vote on a proposed city ordinance appeared likely during the council's Monday evening session.
Although the latest version of the ordinance doesn't spell out what the stickers would cost, Mayor Kelli Linville said she didn't think the fees would be any lower than what city officials had proposed earlier: $50 for an annual sticker, or $20 for a day-use sticker.
So far, County Council members have yet to agree on those prices.
City Council members agreed that they prefer to reach an agreement with the county in order to avoid two different boat inspection systems and two sets of fees, but they also want fees set high enough to cover the full cost of inspections.
"We don't think we need to be in the business of helping people boat on our drinking water source," council member Cathy Lehman said.
Linville told the council that the city will get a better idea of what it costs to run a boat inspection program after a full year of operation.
The city has dropped plans to impose fees immediately on all boats, large or small. Assistant Public Works Director Jon Hutchings said owners of hand-carried boats, such as canoes and kayaks, won't have to buy the stickers this year, although they will be subject to inspections and fines if they are found to be introducing invasive species into the lake.
In its final form, the inspection ordinance is expected to contain provisions for boats participating in sailing regattas, fishing derbies and similar events. Participating boats would still need inspections, but would be covered by a single permit purchased by the organization sponsoring the lake event.
Zebra and quagga mussels, which are native to Eastern Europe, have invaded many lakes and rivers in North America. They grow in masses that can clog water pipes and foul boats, beaches and docks.
Although the mussels are the species of greatest concern, the city's invasive species ordinance contains a long list of plants and animals that officials hope to keep out of the lake.