Whatcom County will expand boat inspections to include canoes, kayaks

Program will cost city about $100,000

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 28, 2014 

kayak lake whatcom

Jim Buchanan of Bellingham kayaks on Lake Whatcom March 16, 2011 in Bellingham. Boat inspections to prevent harmful shellfish from entering the lake will include canoes, kayaks and rowboats in 2014 .

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Boat inspections this year to prevent harmful shellfish from entering Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish will include canoes, kayaks and rowboats, according to rule changes approved earlier this week by the Bellingham and Whatcom County councils.

Some City Council members disapproved of how the program would be funded. In addition to the inspection fees, city residents will support the program with their water-bill payments.

Council members Jack Weiss and Terry Bornemann voted against the program's budget, although they voted for the rule changes that brought boats without motors into the program. Weiss said the program should be fully funded by boaters. The program will carry a net cost to the city of about $100,000.

"I feel uncomfortable about voting for something like this that really is a discretionary user fee," Weiss said. "It's something that the ratepayers of the city of Bellingham really should not be paying for."

City Council member Michael Lilliquist said he didn't like the cost to the city either, but he was willing to support the program knowing that the Legislature was working on a statewide boat inspection program. Lilliquist said state inspections could be run more cost effectively.

"I really want that (bill) to succeed because we're always going to be facing a (financial) problem, trying to run it locally," Lilliquist said.

The state inspection bill passed the Senate and came before a hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations on Thursday, Feb. 27.

The local program requires owners to get their boats inspected and pay a fee for a season-pass sticker: $50 for boats with motors, and $10 for canoes and the like.

Boaters get a $10 discount if they take a 30-minute online course on how to inspect their own boats for the unwanted zebra and quagga mussels. The course effectively waives the fee for canoes, kayaks and rowboats.

County officials recognized the importance of the online information, given that people who can carry their boats to the water won't necessarily stand in line with the bigger boats to get inspected.

"Outreach and education is huge with this," said Gary Stoyka, county natural resources manager, at the Tuesday, Feb. 25, meeting of the County Council. "We can't inspect everything. We can't be everywhere."

Zebra and quagga mussels, which are native to Eastern Europe, have invaded many lakes and rivers in North America - although none yet in Washington state. They grow in masses that can clog water pipes and foul boats, beaches and docks.

The mussels move from lake to lake by attaching to watercraft. A survey conducted last year at Bloedel Donovan Park showed that three boaters had been in a lake infested with invasive mussels during their most recent trip out of state. Outside of the inspection program, a boat from Chicago bound for Canada was found last year in Bellingham with quagga mussels.

The city again this year will make it convenient for boat owners by coming to them to conduct inspections before boating season starts, on April 26. Inspectors will work every weekend during the season at the boat launch at Lake Samish, where inspections last summer were offered only a few times, said Clare Fogelsong, Bellingham's natural resources policy manager.

Added staff and the inclusion of smaller boats increased the program cost compared to last year, Stoyka said. The county is spending $97,500 on the program this year, including a $70,000 payment to the city. The Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District is paying $50,000 to Bellingham, which will administer the program at both Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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