Boston – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) testified before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture this morning during a public hearing hoping to advance his legislation, S. 347, to protect Massachusetts’ lakes and ponds from further contamination by zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species.
“Zebra mussels are devastating to a lake’s ecology; they can damage boats, cover ramps and docks, and kill native species,” noted Downing during his testimony. “There is no scientifically proven way to eradicate zebra mussels once they are introduced to a body of water. As such, the Commonwealth’s primary interest is to prevent the spread of this invasive species.”
At the conclusion of the hearing the Committee convened in Executive Session and voted unanimously to release Downing’s bill with a favorable report.
In January Downing re-filed An Act Protecting Lakes and Ponds from Aquatic Nuisances for consideration after it was engrossed by the Senate in 2010 but saw no further action by the House of Representatives before the close of the legislative session. S. 347 attempts to address an issue of great importance for boaters, sportsmen and lake groups in the Berkshires and western Massachusetts.
During the summer of 2009 zebra mussels were discovered – for the first time ever in Massachusetts – in Berkshire County’s Laurel Lake. Downing’s proposal reflects the recommendations of the state’s Zebra Mussel Task Force, established by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to author a zebra mussel action plan after the aquatic nuisance was identified in Lee.
Aquatic nuisance species, like zebra mussels, pose a significant threat to lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs statewide, creating significant adverse impacts on recreation, ecology, fisheries, aesthetics and property values. The task force determined that under existing law state environmental agencies do not possess the necessary enforcement authority to manage the immediate and long-term effect of zebra mussels, or the means to manage aquatic nuisances that are likely to infest the Massachusetts’ natural resources in the future.
Other states have developed such enforcement authority and capacity to address aquatic nuisance species. Downing’s bill seeks to protect uncontaminated lakes and ponds with a long-term approach to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisances throughout Massachusetts’ inland bodies of water.
The legislation tasks the Department of Conservation and Recreation with establishing an aquatic nuisance control program to study and promote improved methods of suppressing, controlling or reducing the risk of the spread of aquatic nuisances. This program will collaborate with other state and federal agencies engaged in the study or control of aquatic nuisances.
The bill makes clear that lake and pond users cannot knowingly or willfully launch a vessel that has been in contaminated waters without first decontaminating it in accordance with state environmental regulations. Zebra mussels were likely introduced to Laurel Lake by a boat previously launched into the contaminated waters of neighboring states.
The bill also strengthens enforcement measures by allowing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to impose civil penalties for violations of any rules, regulations, orders, or quarantines issued by the Commissioner. The Massachusetts Environmental Police are authorized to proceed against the certificate of number of a vessel involved in a violation. Further, progressive fines for violating aquatic nuisance rules, regulations, orders, or quarantines are established.
The legislation enjoys the support of the state’s environmental agencies as well as the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts. It is anticipated that S. 347 will go to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further vetting. Downing hopes the Senate will debate and endorse the bill prior to the 2011 boating season.