When Montana’s House of Representatives takes up floor debate Tuesday on funding the state’s fight against aquatic invasive species, the bill will not include an amendment that drew national attention for charging a fee on out-of-state bicycles.
Late Friday evening the House Natural Resources Committee amended and unanimously passed Senate Bill 363. The bill aims to raise the more than $11 million needed to fund a bolstered aquatic invasive species program, which became a pressing issue following detection of invasive mussel larvae last year in two popular reservoirs.
Before passing the Senate and after extensive changes via amendment, Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, amended the bill to include a $25 fee paid per out-of-state bicycle. The amendment came after Sales, during debate on a different bill, called cyclists "self-centered" and "rude" for the way they use roads shared with motor vehicles.
News of the comments and amendment drew attention from national cycling groups and spread via social media, bringing ire from those believing it alienated tourists by casting Montana as anti-bike.
Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, who carried SB363, called the messages Sales received some of the “most ugly and nasty” he had ever heard.
While the seriousness of Sales’ amendment was questioned, the Senate passed it by one vote and it remained as House Natural Resources took up the bill. During last week’s hearing, Vincent voiced frustration over attempts to find equitable ways to fund the invasive program. Amendments seeking fairness in charging large and small hydropower providers became mired in “disingenuous speak” from some at the table, he said, without naming names.
Senate amendments scrapped proposed fees for irrigators and decals for motorized watercraft in favor of charging an extra $2 for resident and $15 for nonresident fishing licenses, and charging a fee on hydropower produced by cooperatives.
The fishing fees drew support from industry and conservation organizations while agricultural groups also came in supportive after irrigation fees were dropped.
Opposition came from the Montana Chamber of Commerce, NorthWestern Energy, Avista and the Public Service Commission. Bicycle groups also came in opposed due to Sales’ amendment.
During executive action, the House committee amended out the bicycle provision and reduced hydro fees to produce about $800,000 less.
Chairman Kerry White, R-Bozeman, offered what the committee agreed was a creative funding mechanism. His amendment offers a 2-cent recycling fee for bottle caps. The fee would be collected by retailers via surcharge on bottled water, with funding going to the state.
White said the idea came after learning that plastic caps are one of the top pieces of trash found in river cleanups. He said he has “no idea” how much money could be raised from the program, but believes it could go to funding Montana State Parks in the future.
Under White’s amendment, someone could collect a minimum of 500 caps and bring it to Montana Fish, Wildlife and parks for a refund.
The amendment passed on a split vote while the bill goes to the floor with all 15 on the committee voting in favor.
Routine water testing last year detected larvae from either invasive zebra or quagga mussels in Tiber Reservoir and a positive sample in Canyon Ferry Reservoir. The detections are the first in the Northwest.
Once established, invasive mussels quickly reproduce and cover rocks, docks and boats, and they may clog dams, irrigation equipment and municipal water infrastructure. Mussels also filter plankton from the water, sending a ripple effect through the ecosystem that negatively affects aquatic life.
While the Montana detections are east of the Continental Divide, the Columbia River basin west of the divide is the last major river system in the lower 48 states that remains mussel free. With the basin producing nearly half of the hydropower in the U.S., the cost of responding to a mussel infestation has been estimated at more than $500 million.