Counties will soon get pot of funds for AIS fight
By Carolyn Lange
That includes the dreaded zebra mussel that has been slowly invading central Minnesota lakes.
The state will divvy up $4.5 million to qualifying counties in payments that will be made next month. Beginning next year, and each year thereafter, counties will share $10 million in AIS prevention aid.
The size of the payments is based on a formula using the number of public accesses in each county and the number of boat trailer parking spaces at those public accesses.
In this region, Kandiyohi County has the highest number of accesses and trailer spaces and will receive significantly more money than most neighboring counties.
This year Kandiyohi County is expected to get $128,468.
But starting next year Kandiyohi County could get $256,937 a year, according to preliminary information from Minnesota Senate.
Only nine counties are set to receive more money than Kandiyohi County for the AIS prevention program.
St. Louis County is expected to get the biggest share of the pot, with $680,790 in 2015.
Meeker County isn’t far behind next year’s estimates for Kandiyohi County, with annual aid of $247,882.
Most other counties in the region will get around $35,000 to $45,000 a year.
Renville County is the exception, with an annual AIS allocation of $19,661 expected.
Legislation requires counties to have guidelines for action laid out in a written plan or resolution that must be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources by Dec. 31 of the year the payments are received.
Because AIS has been a front-burner issue for the Kandiyohi County Commissioners and area lake associations in recent years, and in hopes the Legislature would eventually put money into a prevention program, Kandiyohi County is further along with their planning process than some other counties.
Kandiyohi County approved its written AIS work plan last year and finalized the appointment of a 14-member AIS committee last week.
That committee, which includes county commissioners and representatives from lake associations, law enforcement, a dock installation business, watershed district, Department of Natural Resources, Soil and Water Conservation District, sportsman group and lake residents, is expected to begin holding meetings soon to establish a plan of action.
“Let’s get on it,” said Commissioner Dean Shuck, of his desire to get the AIS meetings rolling so the county’s plan can be tweaked, funded and implemented.
But most area counties haven’t started the planning process yet, in part because they don’t have many lakes and AIS isn’t a top-priority issue. But there also hasn’t been a lot of information provided about what is expected of counties.
Swift County Administrator Mike Pogge-Weaver said he’s read the legislation “but beyond that, we don’t have much information.”
He said he believes Swift County would only get $3,500 in AIS funding.
But according to the Senate information, Swift County will receive $35,000 a year.
Pogge-Weaver said at this point AIS hasn’t been discussed by the county board of commissioners and no action has been taken to develop a plan.
Peg Heglund, a county administrator in Yellow Medicine County, said the county board there has not taken action and has “little information” about the program.
The county is not prepared to take action on the new legislation but it’s “on the radar,” said Heglund.
Yellow Medicine County could get $43,127 a year in AIS program funds. Heglund said once she has more information, then she will go to the board for action.
The legislation gives counties considerable latitude in how to spend the money, as long as it meets the mission.
For example, counties can spend the money directly on projects, like site-level management or county-wide education programs, or the money can be used for a joint powers board with another political entity, like a watershed district or soil and water conservation district, according to the legislation.
Administrators from several counties in the region said they’re waiting to discuss a local AIS program until they sit in on a webinar the Association of Minnesota Counties is hosting June 18.
Jake Seig, auditor/treasurer for Lac qui Parle County, said he has a lot of questions about the program, including reporting and accountability for spending the money.
Lac qui Parle could get $44,117 a year for AIS programs.
Seig said it may be beneficial for counties, especially those with few lakes, to work together as a joint powers group, or to appropriate the money to local lake associations.
He said counties that have a lot of lakes where AIS is a major issue may have been lobbying for the legislation and funding. “But we weren’t,” said Seig, who wonders if the AIS program is a good fit for counties.
Paul Virnig, administrator for Meeker County, said commissioners there briefly talked about the AIS funding last week and he’s planning to take in the AMC webinar to learn more details.
“This money is coming soon,” said Virnig, who’s been keeping an eye on Kandiyohi County, which he said is “ahead of the game a little bit more than we are.”
But Virnig said Meeker County already has a water-planning task force grant program made up of lake associations that includes about $40,000 a year in county money. A large portion of the work that task force does pertains to AIS, said Virnig, who anticipates action will be taken soon to develop an AIS program to meet the new state AIS requirements, once those requirements become more clear.
Expected AIS funds for area counties
Based on preliminary information from the Minnesota Senate, area counties will receive funds for AIS based on the number of public boat accesses and the number of trailer parking spots at those accesses.
Minnesota counties will share $4.5 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015, and every year thereafter.
Chippewa County (seven accesses/79 parking spaces)
2014: $18,101 2015: $36,202
Kandiyohi County (48 accesses/576 parking spaces)
2014: $128,468 2015: $256,937
Lac qui Parle County (nine accesses/92 parking spaces)
2014: $22,058 2015: $44,117
Meeker County (41 accesses/604 parking spaces)
2014: $123,941 2015: $247,882
Renville County (five accesses/32 parking spaces)
2014: $9,830 2015: $19,661
Swift County (eight accesses/67 parking spaces)
2014: $17,732 2015: $35,465
Yellow Medicine County (10 accesses/79 parking spaces)
2014: $21,635 2015: $43,127