Closer look

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand swung through the Adirondacks on Monday, unveiling new invasive species legislation in Lake Placid and touring the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake.

Gillibrand visited Lake Placid’s Beach House Monday morning to announce her proposed Fish and Wildlife Invasive Prevention Act, which she said would reform the current Lacey Act. State Sen. Betty Little, Assemblyman Dan Stec and about 25 local people were also in attendance.

Gillibrand said her legislation would speed up the process of designating a newly emerging invasive species on an “emergency basis” and also offer tougher penalties for disobeying the law.

“It’s more flexible and can be done more quickly, and they can list something in a time less than four years, unlike the process they currently have,” Gillibrand said. “It also has a lot higher fines, so if you are found to have brought an invasive species in purposefully, you can be fined $10,000. So it’s a much tougher, steeper fine, that hopefully will create some prevention as well.”

Gillibrand’s legislation would also create a criminal penalty, a misdemeanor, for those caught purposefully avoiding inspection. The civil fine would also apply to those who bring invasives into the body of water unknowingly, she said.

Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks told Gillibrand during a question-and-answer period that more mobile decontamination stations are needed around the state, like new ones in Lake George.

“We need to build an infrastructure of a couple hundred around the state, so federal funding would be very helpful,” Bauer said.

Gillibrand said she would look into finding grants to make that possible.

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall spoke briefly with Gillibrand about the state and village boat launches, telling her “Neither is adequate right now.” He also said wash stations are needed.

Randall said he was happy with the legislation she proposed.

“The whole concept is education and making people appreciate, when they’re towing their boats in and out of lakes, they’re bringing something with them,” he said.

Gillibrand then visited the Trudeau Institute, where the science behind a potential cure for Lyme disease was discussed with Tim Sellati, head of Lyme research at Trudeau, and Ronald Goldfarb, CEO and president.

Sellati and Aimee Gissune, a Clarkson University intern, explained what the institute is researching.

“What we’re doing is using a micro-injector system to inject the bacteria into the Zebra fish embryos, the same way ticks would inject the bacteria into an individual and cause Lyme disease,” Sellati said.

Sellati said neutrophils, white blood cells, attempt to kill the bacteria, but the problem is scientists cannot see the interaction because it happens under the skin. Using the zebrafish allows the scientist to see the interaction, because of the fish’s transparent skin.

“We really need efforts at the federal level to increase the funding necessary to tackle this issue of tick-borne and other diseases,” Sellati told the Enterprise. “We have now anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 cases annually of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and when you look at the federal funding, it’s only $25 million a year.”

Sellati said there is an opportunity for Trudeau Institute to be designated as a “center of excellence,” enabling an expansion of their work with tick-borne diseases and to increase the biomedical cluster in the region.

“We’ve met families that have Lyme, I’ve met mothers who’s children have Lyme, and it crushes families and destroys their lives,” Gillibrand said. “The more we can create a national conversation about the seriousness of tick-borne illness, and the more we can talk about solutions – it’s really exciting.”

Gillibrand also visited the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake Monday.