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Another View -- Bob Reynolds: To fight milfoil, we need more state funding

May 13. 2014 11:55PM

New Hampshire’s lakes, rivers, mountains and beaches serve as wonderful reasons to live in and visit the Granite State. We are home to 950 lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams, all of which play a major role in producing hundreds of millions of dollars of tourism revenue. What would happen if some of our precious natural resources were compromised?

Over the past few years, a group of fellow concerned citizens and I realized we needed to be more proactive in our fight to keep our natural resources clean. We formed a group called Fair Funding for Invasives Control (FFIC), dedicated to supporting efforts to protect New Hampshire’s water bodies from invasive species. We promote community awareness and are working to help create a stable source of funding to pay for invasives control through legislation such as House Bill 292. HB 292 increases the fee on boat registrations by $2 for the specific purpose of controlling invasive weeds.

One of the most widespread aquatic invasive species is variable milfoil, a weed that is easily spread, grows quickly and is difficult to kill. Seventy of New Hampshire’s water bodies are infested with milfoil, from large lakes like Winnipesaukee to small water bodies such as Cobbetts Pond. Activities such as swimming, boating, and kayaking become impossible when a lake is overgrown with milfoil.

A 2007 study by UNH and Antioch College estimated that $379 million is generated annually in New Hampshire from swimming, fishing and boating. The study determined that if the quality of our lakes and rivers deteriorated because of invasive species, New Hampshire would lose $51 million in tourism sales and $18 million in direct state revenue per year. That would be a big hit to the state.

Once milfoil is found in a lake, we must act to control the weed before it affects water quality. Controlling milfoil is expensive. Through a combination of divers who hand-pull the weed, DASH boats that work to suction the plant with machinery, and environmentally friendly treatments that control milfoil, we can protect our lakes. But these activities come at a cost. It’s estimated that controlling milfoil may cost up to $1.3 million per year. The majority of this treatment is funded through local municipalities and private individuals and businesses. Towns such as Moultonborough allocate $200,000 each year at their town meeting solely for the control of milfoil. This money is funded by taxpayers.

The State of New Hampshire owns the water bodies. However, the share of funding for control activities that comes from the state is low — about 18 percent. The Department of Environmental Services is a key partner in control, but we need more state funding for this effort. FFIC believes HB 292 is a step in the right direction, and many boaters and lake advocacy groups support it. In fact, more than 88 percent of those who responded to a survey on controlling milfoil supported an increase in the boat registration fee if it were dedicated to invasive control.

HB 292 does just this. It has received strong support in the House and is now before the Senate.

Each year in New Hampshire, close to 100,000 boats are registered. Thus, the $2 fee increase would bring in approximately $200,000 more to the milfoil control fund. That’s $200,000 to avoid a potential loss of $18 million per year in tourism revenues for the state coffers. Property owners, boaters and lake enthusiasts think it’s well worth it; we hope the Legislature makes it happen.

Bob Reynolds is president of Fair Funding for Invasives Control, Inc. and executive director of the Ossipee Lake Alliance.

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