Boston – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) is pleased to announce Senate passage of his legislation, S. 1904, An Act Protecting Lakes and Ponds from Aquatic Nuisances, during this afternoon’s formal session.
Downing’s bill, which seeks to protect uncontaminated lakes and ponds by preventing the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisances, received the unanimous endorsement of the Massachusetts Senate today, prior to the start of the 2011 summer boating season. During the debate, Downing noted the legislation addresses an issue of great importance for boaters, sportsmen and lake groups in the Berkshires and western Massachusetts.
“Boating, fishing and swimming are favored summer recreational activities in Berkshire County,” said Downing. “The discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake caused widespread panic among local lake users, because a plan to deal with their detection was not readily available. Final passage of this legislation will help the state environmental agencies implement a zebra mussel action plan. I hope it also reminds lake users of our collective responsibility to ensure human actions do not threaten the environmental health of our cherished lakes, rivers and ponds.”
The legislation enjoys the strong support of the Commonwealth’s environmental agencies, and is in fact based on the recommendations of the state’s Zebra Mussel Task Force, tasked by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to author a zebra mussel action plan after the aquatic nuisance was identified in Berkshire County’s Laurel Lake – the first time ever in Massachusetts waters – during the summer of 2009.
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.
Downing’s legislation authorizes the Department of Conservation and Recreation to establish 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.
“It’s been a long and difficult struggle, but we greatly appreciate the efforts of Senator Downing and his colleagues in the Senate who recognized the significance of this issue and took action today,” said Jack Hickey, President of LAPA-West, the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts.
This is the second year in a row the Massachusetts Senate has endorsed this legislation prior to the official start of summer. The measure received a favorable recommendation from the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on April 5th; it now goes to the House of Representatives for review.
On Monday, May 16th officials from the Department of Conservation and Recreation will join City officials at the Onota Lake Boat Ramp in Pittsfield to outline their zebra mussel detection and prevention program for the 2011 boating season.