Boaters roar: Power boat ban fills Westminster meeting room

City balancing Standley Lake recreation with drinking water costs, liability

Posted 4/3/19

Westminster resident Sean Allen said the only reason his family bought a house near Standley Lake is to take his boat out on it. Having his motorboat, which has been kept on a city lot all winter and …

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Boaters roar: Power boat ban fills Westminster meeting room

City balancing Standley Lake recreation with drinking water costs, liability

Brit Terry, of Erie, speaks at an April 2 meeting to a ban on powered boats at Westminster's Standley Lake.
Brit Terry, of Erie, speaks at an April 2 meeting to a ban on powered boats at Westminster's Standley Lake.
Scott Taylor
Posted

Westminster resident Sean Allen said the only reason his family bought a house near Standley Lake is to take his boat out on it.

Having his motorboat, which has been kept on a city lot all winter and was in mussel-free quarantine before that, is patently unfair.

“It's been there for five months on the ground, out of the water and I can't boat?” Allen said. “My boat won't spread mussels. I know that much.”

Allen was one of 400-plus boaters from around the Front Range and Westminster residents that filled the meeting room in Westminster's Recreation Center to protest the city's 2019 ban on trailered boats in Standley Lake.

City Manager Don Tripp approved the ban March 19 after city staff learned that 24 of the 483 powered watercraft used on the lake last year had broken the city's zebra and quagga mussel quarantine. That quarantine is designed to keep Standley Lake's water, the drinking supply for 300,000 North Metro residents, free from the invasive aquatic animals.

Allen said the mussels spreading to the reservoir is unlikely at best.

“They don't even spread that fast if they do get in,” Allen said. “So there might be a small chance, but there is a small chance of anything happening. I could get killed on my way home tonight, but you don't ban all cars just because some people are drunk drivers.”

Tonya Bucher of Westminster had a different take: If the system is so easy to defeat and boaters are willing to break the rules, why should any be allowed to use the reservoir?

“I think the risk is too great and the costs too huge to take a chance with our water supply,” Bucher said. “This is the West and we don't have a ton of water to begin with.”

Balance

It's balance the city is trying to keep, City Manager Tripp said — balancing the boaters rights to recreation while protecting the water supply for Westminster, Northglenn and Thornton. Tripp said the city is forming a task force to look for a better system that will do that.

But until then, the ban stands.

“The bottom line is, we need to find a solution that is fail-safe, and know that we are not putting ourselves into undo risk,” Tripp said. “I think 2019 will be a challenge but we are unwilling to say `Absolutely not.' We'd like to get you back on the lake, but we don't have an answer.”

The city has a strict decontamination policy, requiring all boats to be cleaned and inspected before they are put Standley Lake. Bigger craft, with bilge tanks and motors that can't be sprayed or inspected as easily, must be kept in quarantine for 35 days before they can be used in Standley Lake.

The concern is that non-native Quagga or Zebra mussels could attach themselves to a boat and get introduced to Standley Lake. The mussels can destroy local ecosystems, clog drinking water pipes and cause algae blooms that threaten water quality.

The invasive species have not been found in Westminster's drinking water supply, but they have spread to bodies of water like Nevada's Lake Mead — a popular boating destination.

In the meantime, Tripp said the city is forming a boating task force to look for solutions and he invited boaters at Tuesday's meeting to join it.

Timeline of a ban

Rod Larson, Westminster open space manager, said his staff attended Bureau of Reclamation meeting in December that said that current efforts to clean mussels off of boats are not as effective as first thought. That sent his staff off to check boater records statewide and they learned on Jan. 31 that 24 boaters had broken Westminster's quarantine.

Next, they met with the city's insurers to find out what Westminster's liability would be if there was an outbreak and what it could cost.

They met with a local boat mechanic on March 6 who showed them how easy it was to defeat the city's wire-and-tag verification system.

“It was after this that staff concluded that the current program we had in place was ineffective and that immediate and indefinite switching to something else was required,” Larson said.

The city issued the ban March 19. Larson said it didn't make sense to risk an infestation. The city stopped issuing new boating permits and gave refunds for boating permits they'd already approved.

One boat, one lake

But the reason for Tuesday's meeting was to hear suggestions from boaters, who came from Arvada, Broomfield, Boulder and Erie to speak.

Many suggested better tracking methods — checking engine logs, registration tags that can't be removed as easily and high tech electronic trackers or GPS units that would show if a boater left Westminster. Other called for requiring filters on boats' bilge pumps to keep infected water from being dumped in the lake.

But the simplest solution had the most support from Tuesday's crowd — create a parking area near the lake for boat storage and only allow boats that have been in that area for 35 days to use Standley Lake.

“Create a storage area near the lake that's locked and lock it up at night,” John Petraglia of Westminster said. “If you want to boat on Standley Lake, your boat has to be stored there and if you need to get gas for your boat, you can take it out for an hour. If you take it out for more than that, you go back into quarantine.”

Others suggested there is a long-standing conspiracy to eliminate boating at Standley Lake, something Tripp denied.

“There is no absolutely no conspiracy or plan to eliminate boating, and there never has been,” Tripp said. “I assure you of that. I'm very proud of the staff we have and they are of the highest integrity and quality and they are experts working hard to make this happen for you. So from this point forward, let's find a solution.”

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