The Washington County Board of Supervisors finally reached a consensus Friday on an aquatic invasive species bill, passing a law that bans the transport and spread of non-native aquatic species.
The law is a modified version of a bill that had twice been rejected by supervisors, once by the full board and a second time by the Government Operations Committee, whose members felt it failed to adequately address their concerns.
And while the board approved the measure by a 2,902 to 1,226 margin, several supervisors, including some of those who voted for it, questioned whether it will be effective.
“I thought this time it was properly vetted through committee, but I’m still not sure the effect it’s going to have or if it’s even remotely enforceable,” Granville Supervisor Matt Hicks said.
The law prohibits the launch or the attempt to launch a boat (motorized or non-motorized) that has aquatic invasive species attached to any part of the watercraft into any water body in the county.
It also makes it illegal to drive on any road within the county without first removing invasive species that may be attached to the boat or trailer and requires that any aquatic species attached to a boat may be removed in such a manner as to prevent it from re-entering a body of water.
Violators will be subject to fines of up to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. Those found breaking the law could also face a prison sentence of up to 15 days.
The law would be enforceable by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Environment Conservation and New York State Police.
The intent of the law is to protect the ecology of the county’s water bodies.
Dresden Supervisor Bob Banks and Putnam Supervisor John LaPointe, whose towns are located on Lake George, have been advocating for the passage of the law for months, arguing it will help preserve tourism and property values.
But opponents questioned whether it will have unintended consequences.
“I have a 3.5 acre pond I like to boat and fish on but there are things that have made it in my pond that did not come from the bottom of my boat,” Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff said while waving around a large mussel he took from the pond. “I think this will ultimately lead to groups setting up boat washing stations with limited hours of accessibility and the only things we are going to keep out are the sportsmen.”
Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien also questioned the law’s effectiveness.
“I think what Dana said is absolutely correct. Most invasive species aren’t entering lakes on the bottom of boats. They are being transported by other animals and through the air. We’re not dealing with the whole problem. We’re going to spend a huge amount of effort and resources on just one part of the problem,” he said.
Local and state governments have spent millions of dollars fighting the spread of invasive species across the state. In May, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer called on the federal government to invest million of dollars to prevent and control infestations of invasive species.
Essex County recently passed its own invasive species law, joining Warren County as local counties that have passed laws.
New York State is studying the feasibility of an invasive species law.
Haff said he would have preferred the county wait and see the results of that study and how the state precedes before passing its own law.