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Last-minute push aims to protect lakes

This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows a cluster of zebra mussels. AP Photo/U.S. Department of Agriculture, File

WILLMAR -- A natural resources omnibus policy bill that could be signed by Gov. Mark Dayton before the fishing opener begins this weekend would increase inspections of boats and increase penalties for boaters who fail to follow rules designed to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The bill would be a "first step" in the process of keeping invasive species, including zebra mussels, from being transported from lake to lake, said Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, who voted for the bill Thursday afternoon.

The bill (HF 1097) passed with bipartisan support on a vote of 95 to 37, said Vogel.

The Senate was also planning to vote on their version of the bill (SF 1115) Thursday and, after a brief conference committee to settle differences between the House and Senate bill, send it to Dayton.

Vogel said the goal was to have Dayton sign the bill late Thursday so that the rules and penalties would be place by the time anglers headed out of town today to go to their favorite fishing spot in preparation for the Saturday opener.

"That's why we pushed this thing through," Vogel said.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said late Thursday afternoon that she hoped to find a way to get the environmental policy bill signed by Dayton even if it meant hand-delivering the bill to him on Pokegama Lake.

Dayton leaves St. Paul at noon today for a day and a half in the Grand Rapids area.

The bill is important, Koch said, because it provides legal tools to fight invasive species.

The bill first needs to go through conference committee to work out differences between versions passed by the House and Senate. Then both houses must pass the bill again.

Among other things, the legislation would increase the number of inspectors at boat accesses and establish decontamination stations at lakes infested with zebra mussels. Boats leaving infested lakes would be inspected and power washed with hot water. Boat plugs also would have to be open while boats are transported.

Although the penalties are doubled for many of the violations, Vogel said it didn't go "quite far enough."

He would have liked penalties increased even more because of the serious environmental and financial ramifications of aquatic invasive species being transported from infested lakes to non-infested lakes.

Zebra mussels populate quickly and can leave a beach unusable because of their sharp shells. Property values have reportedly plummeted on some lakes where zebra mussels have been found.

So far, there have been no reports of zebra mussels in any Kandiyohi County lakes. Area lake associations and the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners have been encouraging lawmakers to approve get-tough legislation to prevent infestations from happening here.

Because one boat can bring zebra mussels to a lake, Vogel said he thought the penalties for boaters should have been similar to the penalties hunters experience when they violate hunting rules.

But there was resistance to that from some lawmakers and the Department of Natural Resources, Vogel said.

The bill addresses a number of issues, but Vogel said the portion on aquatic invasive species is one of the most important parts of the bill. The laws not only pertain to boats, but other items, like docks and jet skis, that are moved from lake to lake.

There is currently $2 million dedicated to fight aquatic invasive species over a two-year period, said Vogel.

Don Davis contributed to this report from the Forum Communications Co. Capitol Bureau.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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