Mussels program draws mixed reviews in first year

FRIDAY, OCT. 9, 2009, 11:57 A.M.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — State recreation officials say they have raised more than $776,000 this year from a program to raise money for boat inspections and keeping a pair of invasive mussels out of Idaho waters.

The 2009 Legislature passed a bill requiring all boaters to buy a sticker to help subsidize the statewide inspection program and other efforts to prevent against the introduction of quagga and zebra mussels. The stickers cost between $5 and $20 depending on boat size and if the buyer is an Idaho resident.

So far, officials say nearly 107,000 stickers have been sold or shipped to vendors authorized to sell them.

Figures also show the state completed an estimated 12,000 boat inspections at 18 stations around the state between July 4 and Labor Day. In an editorial circulated to Idaho media last month, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter credited the program, pointing out that inspectors found at least two boats with evidence of mussels on the hulls.

The mussels are considered a threat because they reproduce rapidly and can clog machinery and water pipes and have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems. Otter authorized about $5 million in emergency funding to get the inspection program operational in time for the summer boating season.

Boaters who avoid the inspection sites could face fines of up to $3,000 and civil penalties of up to $10,000. Those who don’t have a sticker face a $57 fine.

The sticker and inspection program is getting mixed reviews from Idaho boaters.

Gordy Hansen, of Idaho Water Sports in Burley, and Tony Tucker with River and Adventure Toys in Twin Falls, say it would be easier if the state made the stickers available to retailers. This year, the stickers were only available through the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, online, by mail or at the agency’s parks and offices.

“I think that it should just be combined (with motorized-boat registrations) into just one fee, one sticker,” Hansen told the Times News.

But Grant Amaral, who lives near Payette and operates a kayak business, said he is irritated that kayakers are required to get the stickers. The state doesn’t require kayaks to be registered like bigger boats, and kayakers and canoeists have battled for years to keep it that way.

Amaral says the sticker program is nothing more than a licensing effort.

“I think a majority of the boaters see this as more of a red-herring tag than a quagga-mussel tag,” he said. “Once again, it’s the government just invading every single facet of our life.”

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