BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) is pleased to announce that yesterday his legislation, S. 1904 of 2011 - An Act protecting lakes and ponds from aquatic nuisances, was signed into law by Governor Patrick.
Downing championed this proposal during two consecutive legislative sessions after the discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake in 2009, marking the first time the invasive species was ever detected in Massachusetts’ waters.
The new law, Chapter 444 of the Acts of 2012, seeks to protect the Commonwealth’s uncontaminated lakes and ponds by preventing the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisances, addressing an issue of great importance for boaters, sportsmen and lake groups in the Berkshires and western Massachusetts.
“Getting this new law on the books before the 2013 boating and fishing season was important to me,” said Downing. “A few summers ago, the discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake caused widespread panic because a plan to deal with their detection was not readily available. This Act assists the environmental agencies as they 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.”
Final passage of the Act in the last days of the 2011-2012 legislative session was facilitated by the persistent advocacy of Downing, the state environmental agencies, Berkshire County’s House delegation -- Representatives Smitty Pignatelli, Paul Mark and Gailanne Cariddi are co-sponsors -- and the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts (LAPA-West).
The Act is based on the recommendations of the state’s Zebra Mussel Task Force, tasked by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in 2009 to author a zebra mussel action plan. Invasive 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.
Chapter 444 of the Acts of 2012 takes effect in 90 days.