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New laws aims to prevent spread of invasive species

A boat trawls the fishing areas on Foot Lake on May 15 during this year's fishing opener. Kandiyohi County officials say new state legislation helps in the fight to decrease the threat of aquatic invasive species moving into area lakes but more action is needed. Kandiyohi County had lobbied for increased state involvement to fight aquatic invasive species, often spread from lake to lake by boating-related equipment. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- New legislation strengthens, but does not go far enough to combat the threat of aquatic invasive species moving into area lakes.

"They did hear us a little bit anyway," said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dennis Peterson, reacting to legislation approved this spring that will require people to drain water from boating-related equipment after leaving any lake in the state.

In the past, the law only applied to boats departing from lakes known to be infested with zebra mussels, spiny water flea or other invasive plankton infested waters.

The new regulations go into effect Aug. 1.

Peterson, who represents the Green Lake area, has been a vocal advocate for taking preventative action to prevent aquatic invasive species, especially the zebra mussel, from entering the county.

The quickly multiplying mussel, which has a sharp shell that can make beaches unusable, has been detected in lakes as close as Alexandria. Kandiyohi County had lobbied for increased state involvement to fight aquatic invasive species and for increased fines for violators. The new legislation says that anyone leaving a state lake must drain boating-related equipment holding water, including live wells and bilges, by removing the drain plug, bailers, valves or other devices before going onto public roads.

Portable bait containers and marine sanitary systems are excluded.

Many people have been voluntarily draining bilges and live wells after leaving all lake -- and not just those known to be infested -- said Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue, who updated the commissioners Tuesday on the new legislation.

But the new law applies some teeth to the practice.

Peterson said the bill "didn't go far enough" and he was disappointed the Association of Minnesota Counties didn't "take the bull by the horns" to toughen the language even more. He was also disappointed the $50 civil penalty for not draining water wasn't increased.

Violators can also be charged with a misdemeanor. The county has requested that the judicial branch consider increasing criminal fines for violating the law and potentially putting lakes at risk of invasive species.

The Department of Natural Resources will be enforcing the new law and is able to write tickets for the civil and criminal violations, Beccue said.

Another proposal that would've provided training on aquatic invasive species for people in the business of installing boat lifts and docks didn't make it past Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "It would've been a good bill but it was vetoed," Beccue said.

The bill would've required one hour of training a year and would've only applied if training was available within 50 miles of the business and the cost didn't exceed $10.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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