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IN THE NEWS: Advancing bill adds fines to protect Mass. lakes from invasive species
February 01, 2012


By Colleen Quinn

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 1, 2012…Boaters launching into Massachusetts lakes this summer could face new fines under a stricter set of Department of Conservation and Recreation regulations designed to prevent local waters from being contaminated by “aquatic nuisances.”

In the past few years, some Massachusetts lakes have become infested by species that are not indigenous to Bay state waters. The problem is particularly pronounced in the western part of the state, where zebra mussels – an invasive species that causes ecological damage to lakes, rivers, ponds and reservoirs – infested Laurel Lake in Berkshire County. Zebra mussels were never seen in Massachusetts prior to 2009.

Zebra mussels cause ecological damage to the lakes and ponds they infest by feeding on lower-level organisms which make up the initial food chain that fish and other aquatic animals use to survive.

“Eventually they clear all the food out of a lake and everything else will die,” said Jack Hickey, president of the Lakes and Pond Association of western Massachusetts, who has been advocating for legislation to enforce regulations for the past few years.

They also make swimming in infested waters dangerous and undesirable because their shells are very sharp, cutting people as they swim, Hickey said.

State environmental officials believe zebra mussels and other damaging aquatic species are brought in from neighboring states when boaters do not properly clean and decontaminate their vessels before putting them into Massachusetts waters. To curb the contamination at Lake Laurel, DCR set up a new boat washing station. The zebra mussels can be microscopic, and only removed by very hot water, environmental officials said.

The House is poised to pass legislation next week that would allow the state’s environmental police to enforce decontamination procedures at public boat launches. The bill, (S 1904) sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), passed in the Senate last July – the second time it has cleared the upper branch.

“Obviously we are an area that prides itself on its natural beauty,” Downing said. “The idea that we would have an invasive species that has done great harm in other regions - the Great Lakes, Vermont, New York – sprung us all to action.”

The bill empowers environmental police to enforce boat decontamination procedures, and enables them to levy civil fines to boaters who do not comply, from $25 to $100 for the first offense, $100 for second offense, and up to $1,000 for a third offense.

Along with stronger enforcement abilities, the bill also creates an aquatic nuisance control program within DCR to work with local communities and environmental groups to respond to infestation complaints, along with establishing programs to combat problems. It allows environmental agencies to partner with state, federal and private entities to study, quarantine and eliminate aquatic nuisances.

Downing said he is hopeful it will pass in the House this year. Last session, it failed to make it out of the House Ways and Means Committee. But it cleared Ways and Means earlier this week, and is expected to be up for a House vote.

DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert said about two-thirds of Massachusetts lakes, ponds and reservoirs are infested with some type of invasive aquatic species.
“It is potentially a very significant problem,” he said. “By changing the ecology they can affect the nutrients, the quality of water for recreation, the aesthetics, a whole range of things. Certainly, some of these can be devastating.”

Last summer, DCR spent approximately $100,000 on education efforts, trying to warn boaters about contamination dangers. The work has started to pay off, Lambert said, with the spread contained. But the legislation would give the enforcement efforts some teeth, he said.

One of the challenges environmental officials face is making boaters who use private docks aware of the problem, Lambert said. Boaters who transfer the invasive creatures from one lake to another do it unwittingly, he said.

Environmentalists hope the proposed law will help limit the problem.



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