Whatcom council reluctantly adopts Bellingham boat inspections

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 24, 2013 

boat inspections

As new owners Ken and Trish Larson watch, Scott Gilles, right, loads their boat on to a trailer at Bloedel Donovan Park after a tour around Lake Whatcom on Thursday March 8, 2012 in Bellingham. Local officials hope to get a mandatory inspection program in effect for all boats on Lake Whatcom as soon as this summer, to avoid introduction of harmful invasive species such as zebra mussels.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Council and members of the public were not pleased with the decision, but Whatcom County's governing body agreed to adopt mandatory boat inspections and boater fees, to try to prevent an infestation of invasive shellfish in Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish.

The program as passed Tuesday, April 23, is riddled with flaws, even according to council members who approved it in a 5-1 vote. Only Barbara Brenner opposed the ordinance establishing the boat inspections, which will begin Saturday, April 27, at Bloedel Donovan Park. Pete Kremen was absent.

One of the problems, Chairwoman Kathy Kershner said, was that boats entering Lake Samish must be taken first to Bloedel Donovan to get an inspection.

Also, questions remain about how effective the program will be. Small craft, including canoes and kayaks, are exempt from the fee.

"It seems like a great big program that's going to cost boat owners money and cost taxpayers money, and there's no guarantee we're going to keep anything out of Lake Whatcom," Kershner said.

Council members said they had little if any choice but to approve the same program adopted by Bellingham a month ago. An attempt to lower the city-imposed fees of $50 for a season and $20 for a day pass failed in a close vote.

Council members expected the program would become ineffective if the city and the county were enforcing different rules and requiring different fees.

"We're caught here. The city has passed its ordinance. If we make deviations to it, we've got a nightmare out there," Kershner said.

Council member Sam Crawford said he was disappointed that the city moved forward with a program and set fees before the county.

"I would like to see kayaks and canoes included" because there is evidence they can spread invasive shellfish, Crawford said Tuesday morning at a council committee meeting. "I don't know why the city left it out."

Brenner called for a streamlined program in which boaters could learn online how to inspect their own craft. They would then be subject to surprise inspections, rather than the mandatory inspections at the launch that are likely to cause delays.

A program like that could be put in place by 2015, Assistant Public Works Director Chris Brueske said.

Council members said they will begin immediately working on improvements to the program.

Council member Carl Weimer said some action against zebra and quagga mussels, even if flawed, was important because if they were to get established in the lake, agencies could spend millions of dollars to protect drinking-water systems in Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish.

"It's a work in progress. Nobody's thrilled with what we got here," Weimer said.

EARLY BOAT INSPECTIONS AVAVAILABLE

Depending on the weather, Bloedel Donovan Park could be crowded on Saturday, April 27, with boats that need to be inspected for invasive shellfish before they can enter the water.

Saturday is the opening of lowland fishing season and the first day Bellingham will offer boat inspections at the park.

Boaters can bypass the inspection line by getting an inspection before Saturday. Make an appointment by calling 360-778-7975. Pay the $50 seasonal fee or $20 for a day pass during the inspection or in advance at cob.org/pay. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from the fee.

About 50 boats had been inspected as of Monday, April 22, said Jon Hutchings, Bellingham's public works assistant director.

Pre-inspected boats do not need another inspection Saturday at the park and will be directed to a different line.

City crews conducting inspections will try to keep pace with the rate that boats are being launched. Boaters are asked to clean their boat and take gear out of storage compartments to make inspections quicker.

Inspectors can accept credit or debit cards for fee payment at the lake.

Pre-inspected boats and those that will only use Lake Whatcom can be sealed with a tether that ties the boat to the trailer. The seal lets city staff know the boat doesn't need to be inspected before launching.

Boaters can ask for the seal after exiting the lake. Staff will be available at Bloedel Donovan from dawn to dusk, seven days a week.

More information on the city boat inspection program is at cob.org.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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