House OKs invasive tag fee boost

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This Idaho license plate was dipped in Nevada’s Lake Mead for six months. (Courtesy photo)

SANDPOINT — A bill aimed at enhancing Idaho’s boat inspection program in the state’s ongoing effort to thwart the introduction of aquatic invasive species cleared the House of Representatives in a lopsided vote on Monday.

Representatives voted 65-4 to increase the fee for aquatic invasive stickers for out-of-state boaters from $22 to $30. The fee increase, which heads to the Idaho Senate, would apply to motorized vessels and sailboats with registered outside of the state.

The sticker fees for Idaho residents would remain unchanged. The state charges residents with motorized vessels $10 for the aquatic invasive species stickers. The fee for non-motorized vessels for Idaho residents is $7.

Every year, Idaho boaters and visitors are required to purchase and affix the stickers to the bows of their boats before they shove off. The sticker fee program sustains Idaho’s boat inspection program, which requires motorists hauling boats in Idaho to stop at a check station to see if the vessels are carrying listed aquatic invasive species such Eurasian milfoil, flowering rush and other aquatic plants.

Of particular concern is guarding against the introduction of quagga and zebra mussels, invasive mollusks which have already infested the Great Lakes and the Southwest. Once introduced, the aquatic bivalves proliferate and coat marine infrastructure. Their sharp shells litter beaches and disrupt water quality by stripping out nutrients.

The Idaho Invasive Species Council estimated in 2009 that an infestation in Idaho would have a $94 million impact on dams, marine infrastructure, drinking water systems and boats.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture warned in January that it might have to scale inspections back in 2017 because program expenditures outpaced revenue in 2016. The news drew audible gasps from those attending Idaho’s Lakes Commission.

Unease over curtailed inspections was amplified by the discovery of mussels in their microscopic life stage in central Montana and the increase in the number of boaters turning up at inspection stations.

The inspection stations in Idaho have intercepted 165 mussel-fouled vessels since 2009, according ISDA figures. The stations inspected 89,390 boats in 2016, an increase of 41 percent over the previous year’s inspections.

Last year, inspection stations intercepted 19 vessels contaminated with mussels, four of which were headed for Panhandle waterways, ISDA said.

Currently, out-of-state invasive species tags generate $218,000 annually. The total expected revenue from the fee increase is estimated to be approximately $70,000-$80,000, which is expected to allow the inspection stations to expand their hours of operation, according to a fiscal note appended to the bill.

Representative Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, voted in favor of the legislation, while Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, voted against it.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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