AUGUSTA (AP) – An effort to protect Maine’s lakes from invasive plants like milfoil would require all boats to be inspected and public boat ramps to be blocked if inspectors were not on duty.

As the bill is written, boaters who use any of 14 lakes outside of inspection times could be charged with a misdemeanor offense.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, is designed to stop milfoil, hydrilla and other nuisance plants from spreading before they cause serious ecological and economic damage to the rest of Maine’s lakes.

At a public hearing Thursday, lake advocates said time is running out if Maine wants to avoid major infestations that have plagued other states.

Recreational fishermen, however, were livid.

Dave Barnes of China, a registered Maine Guide representing the 400 members of the Maine Bass Federation, said it’s unfair to limit public access while people who can afford it simply use private boat ramps.

“That’s what it comes down to – the haves and the have nots – and this is not what I fought for my country for,” he said.

Currently there are three public ramps that have restricted access because of invasive plant problems: two ramps on Messalonskee Lake, and one on Pickerel Pond.

Martin’s bill would apply to 21 public boat ramps at 14 lakes.

Supporters say something must be done if Maine is to avoid following in the footsteps of Florida, Vermont and other states that spend millions of dollars a year to manage their invasive plant problems.

Sharon Bard of Gray told the Natural Resources Committee that the Little Sebago Lake Association spent $8,000 last fall on a professional survey to identify the extent of the lake’s variable leaf milfoil problem.

“It came back scaring the daylights out of every one of us because there was far more milfoil than we ever dreamed in that lake,” Bard said. “It is all over the darn lake, and it is far more than an association can handle.”

Andrew Fisk, director of the Bureau of Land and Water Quality, said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would support the bill, but only with some critical changes.

Fisk said that providing enough inspectors at the lakes while still allowing a high degree of public access would “significantly and detrimentally redirect staff and resources.”

“Keeping sites open on infested lakes with paid inspectors, even on a limited basis, comes at a high cost,” he said.

In 2003, the DEP kept paid boat inspectors at the Route 27 ramp on Messalonskee Lake three days a week from June through September. The staffing cost $40 per boater visit.

Fisk said the state would like to continue to assess the risk on a case-by-case basis. He proposed an amendment to Martin’s bill that would give the DEP and the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife clear authority to require inspections on ramps at infested lakes.

“This would allow some relatively low-risk ramps to be kept open part-time or continuously, with inspectors assigned at optimal times,” he said. “Higher risk sites would have more inspection hours and perhaps be closed at other times.”

Dan Buckley, a biology professor at the University of Maine in Farmington who has spent the past three years mapping the spread of invasive plants in Maine lakes, called the bill’s solution a “one size fits all type of program.”

“We have no reason to suspect that all ramps pose the same risk of transmission,” he said.

AP-ES-02-06-04 0217EST

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