BELLINGHAM - City Council members were ready on Monday afternoon, March 11, to approve a new boating fee for Lake Whatcom, to try to prevent non-native mussels from invading the city's drinking-water supply.
A vote on an ordinance detailing a new inspection program will take place at a future meeting. On Monday night, council held a public hearing.
City officials plan to start the program this year, with the city's efforts focused on the launch at Bloedel Donovan Park. They are coordinating with Whatcom County officials, who would establish a similar program with the same fees: $50 for a season pass or $20 for a day-use sticker.
The fee amounts were set, in part, to increase the likelihood that the county would participate, Mayor Kelli Linville said. An early estimate has fees covering about half the cost of the program, which would be $130,000 to $140,000 a year starting in 2014, Assistant Public Works Director Jon Hutchings said. With startup expenses, the program would cost $227,000 this year, a city memo said.
Council members who spoke Monday afternoon at the Lake Whatcom Reservoir and Natural Resources Committee meeting said the fees may need to be higher after this year, to make the program self-sustaining - even if it discourages boaters from using the lake.
"I'd be real happy if they go somewhere else, if it's putting our water supply at risk," said council member Stan Snapp, who acknowledged that lakeside residents have the right to launch their boats from their own property.
Council member Jack Weiss also put protecting water quality above recreation.
"Recreational boating is a very discretionary type of activity," Weiss said. "It doesn't have to happen on our drinking-water supply."
Inspections and permits would be required on all boats brought into the lake on trailers, including sailboats and rowboats, said Teagan Ward, environmental resources assistant with the city. Canoes and kayaks, or any boat that can be hand-carried into the water, would be exempt, she said.
The city and the county are among a growing number of communities in the West trying to stop the spread of quagga and zebra mussels, first discovered in that part of the United States in 2007. The mussels spread rapidly and can clog water intakes, damage salmon habitat, and interfere with irrigation and hydroelectric power production. The mussels could cost the Pacific Northwest tens of millions of dollars a year, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council said in a Feb. 28 letter to the city council.