Officials seek improvements to Lake Whatcom boat inspections

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 4, 2013 

BOAT INSPECTION CLO

Rachel Garcia, left, an aquatic invasive species inspector with the Lake Whatcom Management program, looks in an anchor well with boat owner Richard McLellan, right, on the first day of required boat inspections for invasive species Saturday, April 27, 2013 at Bloedel Donovan Park in Bellingham. David Lofgren, center, also with the Lake Whatcom Management program, is in the background. McLellan, who lives near Lake Samish, brought his boat to the park so he could get the annual pass and learn what he can do to keep invasive species off his boat.

COLIN DILTZ — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

As Whatcom County Council members waste no time trying to fix what they say is a flawed boat inspection program on Lake Whatcom, those in charge of the inspections say they already have begun making them better.

Bellingham officials gave a discount on the inspection fee to the 15 boats that participated in an opening day bass tournament on Saturday, April 27. Joe Boyd, past president of tournament organizer Borderline Bassin Contenders, said the fishing was good and the pre-dawn inspections went smoothly.

The anglers inspected their own boats under the supervision of city staff.

"Some of them were impressed with how adept we were at getting 15 boats into the water in a relatively short amount of time," said Boyd, a Bellingham resident.

The city is working on streamlining inspections for boat dealers, said Jon Hutchings, Bellingham Public Works assistant director. The dealers have said the program is inconvenient and costly for them because they put boats in the water frequently.

The first weekend of fishing season, April 27-28, also was the beginning of inspections at Bloedel Donovan Park. While not everyone was happy about the new requirement, the inspections didn't slow boat launches much because traffic was light on that rainy weekend, Hutchings said.

"I suppose we'll have more folks out this weekend," he said, aware of the sunny weather forecast. "This early part of the season is really about education and outreach, as well as tuning our process."

A season permit costs $50, and a day pass is $20.

The inspections, put in place by the city and county, are intended to prevent invasive species from entering the lake by hitching a ride on someone's boat. It's one of many measures being taken to protect the lake, which is the water supply for about half the county's residents.

The council has in mind some tuning of the inspection program and will discuss possible changes at a meeting of the Public Works, Health and Safety Committee.

Barbara Brenner and some other council members want to end the exemption for canoes and kayaks, and create an exemption or reduce the fee for boats that never leave Lake Whatcom.

"I would like to see the changes right away, as soon as possible," Brenner said Thursday, May 2, in an interview. She voted against the inspections. "I still to this day have no idea why they passed an ordinance they knew was seriously flawed."

The committee's discussion of the inspection program is at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 7.

Council is scheduled vote at 7 p.m. Tuesday on whether to spend $25,000 to staff Lake Samish for inspections and boater education. The program applies to Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish, and the county plans to expand it to other county lakes in 2015. Council will discuss funding for the program at Lake Samish in a committee meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

All meetings are in council chambers in the Whatcom County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

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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