The Bellingham Herald (Washington)
BYLINE: JOHN STARK; THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
BELLINGHAM – As part of the ongoing effort to protect Lake Whatcom from potentially harmful non-native animals, the City Council is ready to pass an ordinance that could impose a fine on anyone who introduces them.
Once the council votes formal approval at two council meetings, the new ordinance would allow police and other enforcement officers to issue a civil citation to anyone who introduces any “invasive species” into Lake Whatcom or Lake Padden. Lake Whatcom is the city’s drinking water supply.
The maximum fine would be $1,000, according to the ordinance.
On Monday, June 18, assistant city attorney Ryan Anderson told council members that making violations a civil infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor, makes enforcement easier. Civil citations could be issued by the inspectors that the city eventually expects to station at the Lake Whatcom boat launch at Bloedel Donovan Park, once those inspectors get authorization from the police chief. A criminal misdemeanor would require the involvement of a regular police officer.
A court also can assess a civil fine based on the legal standard known as “preponderance of the evidence,” which is easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of criminal cases.
The council’s concern about invasive species was aroused in late 2011 when Asian clams were discovered in both Lake Whatcom and Lake Padden. That raised concerns that the lake also could be vulnerable to zebra and quagga mussels – two pesky Eurasian bivalve species that have fouled lake shores, water system intakes and boat engines in many places across the country since their introduction into the Great Lakes decades ago.
While the mussels have yet to become established in Washington state, wildlife officers here and in Idaho have intercepted several contaminated pleasure boats that were bound for this state’s waters.
The potential damage from those mussels is so great that council members were giving serious consideration to shutting down the Bloedel Donovan boat launch until an inspection system could be set up. But Mayor Kelli Linville and her staff advised against it, citing cost, enforcement problems and likely citizen backlash.
The city is moving ahead with a boat inspection system that is expected to become a fact of life for Lake Whatcom watercraft of all types and sizes beginning some time in 2013. While the details of that system remain sketchy, council members appear to favor a system in which boaters would cover some or all of the inspection system costs via fees.
Anderson also told council members that introduction of invasive species is already illegal under state law, but the city ordinance gives the city legal authority to issue the citations to protect its water supply.
While concern over mussels prompted the ordinance, introduction of a wide range of plants, reptiles, fish, amphibians and invertebrates would be a violation of the ordinance, which adopts the same list of invasive species spelled out in state law. A few examples: cricket frog, African clawed frog, mole salamanders, hellbenders, Kurdistan newts, mitten crabs, fathead minnows and spiny water fleas.
Copyright 2012 The Bellingham Herald (Washington)
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