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DNR fines offer little to prevent spread of invasives

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners are concerned that a slight increase in fines won't be enough to keep invasive species, like zebra mussels, out of county lakes.

Despite requests from Kandiyohi County, the state Department of Natural Resources did not recommend elevating crimes, like failing to drain live wells after leaving an infested lake, from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. A gross misdemeanor would require a court appearance, and conviction would result in fines of several th-ousand dollars and possible restitution.

"They just raised the rates from very low to low," said County At-torney Boyd Beccue, during an update to the board Tuesday.

Although the DNR did double most of the fines for the invasive species violations, the board said the $50 to $200 in fines will not be enough to get people's attention and stop bad boating habits that can transport zebra mussels and Eurasian water milfoil into lakes.

Once destructive species like zebra mussels get into a lake, property values will drop dramatically, said Commissioner Dennis Peterson. He has been appointed by the Association of Minnesota Counties to a statewide committee that's studying invasive species.

The group met for the first time last week.

The consensus at that meeting, which included representatives from the DNR, resorts, fishing and boating interests, lake associations, watershed districts and conservation groups was that the DNR's position on the fines was "ridiculous," said Peterson.

Peterson said legislation is needed to make laws and penalties stiffer and to give power to inspectors stationed at boat accesses. Past legislation has faced opposition, he said.

He said funding needs to be found to support prevention of zebra mussels because once they're in lakes, there's no way to get rid of them.

Meanwhile, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved allocating a $500 grant to offset the $1,000 fee for an event this summer that educated Green Lake Property Owners and area lawmakers and local government officials about zebra mussels. Peterson said the well-attended meeting was an important way of informing the public about the problem.

The commissioners also approved a $3,000 grant from the water planning task force fund to offset chemical costs used for Eurasian water milfoil in Lake Florida. In 2009, a survey of the lake indicated there was less than an acre of milfoil in the lake, located west of Spicer. A year later the milfoil had spread to 20 acres.

Carolyn Lange

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

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