PRIEST RIVER — A bill to bolster Idaho’s defenses against dreaded zebra and quagga mussels sailed through the Senate on Thursday.
The Senate voted 33-1 to approve an appropriations bill that adds $1 million in funding to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to expand its boat inspection program. The legislation’s floor sponsor was District 1 Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Kootenai.
The department expanded the level of service at its inspection stations last year to guard against the introduction of the invasive mollusks, which can blanket pretty much any hard surface in the marine environment and litter beaches with thousands of sharp shells.
“It will beef up the number of inspection stations,” said Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.
The legislation adds three additional stations, ensures funding for all 18 stations to operate from dawn to dusk and adds three full-time positions. It also funds a new outreach program and provides funding for county law enforcement for each station for five hours s day.
The new stations will be situated on state Highway 3 near Rose Lake in Kootenai County, U.S. Highway 12 near Lolo Pass and on Interstate 15 near Spencer.
Erpelding said he is advocating for inspection stations to stay open as long as possible because some motorists are waiting until they close before crossing state borders.
“If we can’t get them to 24 hours, we’re going to push them far later past dark,” he said.
The approval of House Bill 1112 trails closely in the wake of House Bill 256, which boosts the invasive species sticker fee for out-of-state boaters.
The fee for out-of-state boaters would increase from $22 to $30 if approved by the Senate. The sticker fee for in-state power boaters and all paddle craft would remain at $10 and $7, respectively.
The fee hike for out-of-state boaters was met with opposition from Pend Oreille River boaters in Washington, who feel they are being unfairly singled out.
Erpelding said the fee increase was applied to out-of-state boaters because the threat of quagga and zebra mussels originates outside the state.
“All this research that we had said that out-of-state boats are really the ones that are providing the most risk to the state and yet in-state and out-of-state boaters were paying virtually the same rate,” Erpelding said.
Out-of-state boaters are also questioning why the operators of paddle craft are subject to a fee increase.
Erpelding said kayaks, canoes and rafts were spared the fee increase because the vessels that pose the greatest risk are ones that are capable of taking on ballast water and which are docked for periods of time.
“That’s the vector for transmission,” Erpelding said of boats which can take on and discharge ballast. “It’s not in the canoe that’s on top of a car.”