2006-06-15 / Front Page

State lawmakers revise 'no discharge' boating law

By Sam Bari

The headline in a news release from the state General Assembly announced: "Discharge rules for boats cleaned up."

It went on to say: "Bill amends law's certification, penalty provisions to further protect RI waters." However, Harbor Management Commissioners and area residents do not agree.

The news release said that legislation to clarify waste discharge certification procedures for boats on Rhode Island's waters has been approved by both chambers of the General Assembly and has been forwarded to the governor.

"The legislation that has been passed is an example of taking a good law and making it better," said the bill's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed (DJamestown, Newport).

"We have been diligent, in the General Assembly, about protecting Rhode Island's waters because of the enormity of their importance to our state and its residents. That was the goal in enacting legislation last year to make boat owners verify - through certification - that waste from their marine toilets was not entering and polluting Rhode Island waters," she added.

"The bill that I introduced this year and that has now been passed by the Senate and House of Representatives further clarifies what the state expects of boat owners in helping to fight pollution in our waters," said the majority leader.

As amended, the bill expands the list of qualified certification agents who can inspect permanently installed marine toilets on boats and issue "no discharge certification" decals. The amended bill also gives boat owners another year - until June 1, 2007 - before the penalty phase of the law kicks in and a fine of $100 is issued to any boat owner without a "no discharge certification" decal properly displayed on the hull.

The decals, under existing law, are good for four years. Certification agents can collect up to $25 per permanently installed marine toilet inspected and an additional $10 per decal, which goes to the state Department of Environmental Management.

Also, under the Paiva Weed legislation is clarification on the two different colored decals that will be issued.

One color will signify that "the recipient boat has a marine toilet, in proper working order, which is either a marine sanitation device type I, II, or III with a holding tank and through-hull fitting that would allow sewage to be discharged overboard, but the boat owner or operator has taken the steps necessary to prevent the discharge of sewage into the waters of the state." In other words, "the boat owner has installed a Y-valve."

The other color decal will signify that "the recipient boat either has a marine sanitation device type III with a holding tank and no through-hull fitting that would allow sewage to be discharged overboard, or no marine toilet at all."

The bill also allows municipalities to deny a mooring permit to any boat not in compliance with the ordinance. A companion House bill was sponsored by Representative Bruce J. Long (RJamestown, Middletown).

Town officials and area residents do not agree. They feel that the bill will not reduce pollution in the bay, which is allegedly the intent of the newly written ordinance.

"The legislation is a 'feel good law' designed to make people think the legislature is doing something about pollution in the bay," said Harbor Management Commission Chairman Michael De Angeli.

"The ordinance will not have any effect on the ecology," he continued. "There are no additional penalties for polluting Rhode Island waters. Nothing beneficial to the environment will come from the enforcement of this law. All it does is provide an opportunity to collect money for a decal and cost boaters for having their boats inspected. Non-compliance or violation of the ordinance means a boat wasn't inspected and doesn't have a decal. For that, the owner will be fined $100," he said.

Harbor Commissioner Rick Anderson said, "This law is totally unnecessary. It's a bureaucratic issue, not an environmental issue. More untreated sewage comes from waste treatment plants than all the boats put together.

"Shellfish closures are due to sewage overflow from inadequate sewer systems and overtaxed waste treatment facilities," he added. "It's just another way to collect money from the boaters. How does a decal stop anyone from polluting the water if that's what they intend to do? Anyone who does that kind of thing without a sticker, will just continue doing it with a sticker. How is this law going to stop pollution? It's not. It's a waste of time and money," he said.

Ed Connelly, a visiting boater from Wickford said, "The law is an insult to our intelligence. I'd rather they (the state) just asked for a $10 donation every four years to leave us alone. I'd pay it. But to pass a useless law that forces boaters go to the trouble of having their boat inspected so they can stick a decal on the hull to declare compliance with an ordinance that does nothing is ridiculous and just plain stupid," he added.

Half a dozen other local boaters and residents repeated versions of the aforementioned sentiments. They are grateful that the ordinance won't be enforced for a year, but the consensus is that the law should be repealed.

Many said that the voice of the boaters is not being heard or considered. They feel that the law is being "shoved down their throats" to take the focus off the real causes of pollution in Narragansett Bay, which they believe is inadequate and dated sewage treatment plants and sewer systems in disrepair.

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