Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Oregon's boat-inspection station in Baker County has worked better than state officials expected.

Which is a good thing.

And, perhaps, a bad thing.

In 2011 the Legislature passed a law requiring people hauling boats to stop if they see a mandatory inspection station.

One of those stations is at the Baker Valley Rest Area, along Interstate 84 about eight miles north of Baker City.

(In the previous two years, the inspection station was in place at the rest area, but boaters weren't legally required to stop.)

In May, less than a week after the inspections started, officials found what they were looking for but hoped not to find: zebra mussels.

These invasive shellfish, which can crowd out fish and other aquatic species, clog irrigation pipes and cause a host of other problems, pose a major threat to Oregon's lakes and rivers, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

ODFW officials also want to prevent another invasive species, the quagga mussel, from hitching a ride on a boat and thereby migrating into Oregon.

The owner of the boat with zebra mussels lives in La Grande. The boat had most recently been moored in Saginaw Bay, Mich.

Since then inspectors at the Baker Valley Rest Area have found zebra mussels on a second boat, also from La Grande. That boat was used on the Mississippi River.

And an inspection station along Interstate 5 near the Oregon/California border found quagga mussels on a boat from Central Point, near Medford, that was returning from Lake Havasu, Ariz.

The bottom line, then, is that the danger of invasive mussels spreading into Oregon is real.

As is the need for the boat-inspection stations.

But those stations are far from foolproof.

There's just 14 stations statewide, for one thing.

And the stations aren't staffed around the clock - generally they operate five days per week (Tuesday through Saturday) for eight hours per day.

The message that needs to get to boaters, then, is to be vigilant in checking their craft - especially if they ply waters outside Oregon.

And don't assume that a cross-country drive will purify your boat - these mussels can survive for as long as 30 days out of the water.

If you're hauling your boat and you come across one of the inspection stations, pull over and go through the process.

It takes only about 10 minutes if the boat is free of mussels.

And if your boat is contaminated, a worker will clean the vessel, on site, for no cost. Nor will you be fined if your boat is infested.

If you refuse to stop at an inspection station, though, you could get a $110 ticket (so far only one boat owners has been cited, along I-5).

That might be frustrating.

But it's a small cost compared with the ruinous effect of quagga or zebra mussels getting into one of your favorite lakes or rivers.