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County wants higher fines to prevent spread of zebra mussels

WILLMAR -- With the threat of zebra mussels invading Kandiyohi County getting closer each season, the County Board of Commissioners said tougher state action is needed to prevent people from spreading the invasive species.

"It is a big concern, or it should be a big concern, for everybody in the county, especially those around the lakes," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.

Zebra mussels have been found in lakes as close as Alexandria.

They can be transported from lake to lake in a variety of ways including minnow buckets or water pumps on boats.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday during the regular board meeting that the state's current $50 fine for transporting an invasive species isn't high enough to get people's attention.

They agreed to send a letter to legislators asking that the fines be increased so that boaters start taking extra caution to clean their boats and equipment after leaving one lake and going to another.

Chairman Richard Falk said hunters caught poaching pay hefty fines and can have their guns, vehicles and hunting privileges taken away. "But if you infest a whole lake, it's just $50."

Peterson said being careful about spreading invasive species doesn't just involve boaters or anglers. He said people who install docks or rafts in multiple lakes each season could also unknowingly spread the species.

Because of enforcement difficulty, Peterson said it doesn't make sense for counties to develop their own ordinances to deal with zebra mussels. Peterson said he'd initially supported a prevention plan similar to Colorado that has boat inspections. But he later learned the state spends $12 million in enforcement to protect their 27 bodies of water.

With more than 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, Peterson said it was obvious "this same plan isn't going to work here."

Peterson said it "may be too late" to prevent zebra mussels from entering the county, but every effort should be taken to make sure they don't continue to spread.

Peterson said more education is needed so that people understand the seriousness of zebra mussels and how they are spread.

Carolyn Lange

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

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