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Area fishing guides Jason Durham and Kelley Cirks urged the city to take a proactive approach.

Nevis agrees to partner with task force to combat spread of AIS on Belle Taine

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Funding to address preventing the infestation of zebra mussels in Belle Taine moved from a "we'll consider this for next year's budget" comment to a $500 donation this week after Nevis Council members were advised of the gravity of the issue.

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Ken Grob, Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force chair, urged partnerships among cities and townships to combat "the real threat and danger to Hubbard County's lakes, rivers and watersheds.

"We can't do it alone," he said of partnering with communities. "Our lakes need your help."

Fishing guides Jason Durham and Kelley Cirks urged the city's involvement.

"It's best to get it done before it happens," Cirks said. "I was on Lake Erie when it started. It devastated it."

"Nevis," he pointed out, "is built on Belle Taine."

"It's a battle," Durham agreed. "You can see it on the map."

Zebra mussels have spread across the eastern half of the U.S. at an incredible rate, Grob pointed out in his presentation. They were first discovered in 1988 in Lake St. Clair, which connects with Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Two years later they spread to all the Great Lakes. By 1995, they were found in most major river systems in the East.

AIS is not only a threat to county lakes, but to the tax base, Grob said. "AIS can lead to a 15 to 30 percent reduction in property values in lakes impacted by zebra mussels," he said.

Lake Belle is a "big part of Nevis," he said of the fishing tournaments, Northwoods Triathlon, resorts and campgrounds.

The lake's taxable market value, at $133 million-plus, is second in the county. (Long Lake is the first.) Water clarity is an enviable 21 feet.

"The Mantrap Chain is one of the clearest and cleanest in the state," he said.

Zebra mussels are small freshwater mollusks that spread rapidly, reaching high densities. There is no known full-lake method of control or containment.

The mussels secrete a powerful glue, enabling them to form dense colonies on rocks, metal, plastic, concrete, pipes, boats and other submerged objects.

The lake, Grob stressed, is changed forever. Beaches are ruined. Fish populations decline dramatically.

Hubbard County lakes are at a risk for zebra mussel infestation.

To date, zebra mussels have been found in about 90 Minnesota lakes, rivers and wetlands. The infestation in Lake Mille Lacs grew to "off the charts" proportions from 2008 to 2011.

"Leech Lake is the predominant next fishing destination for boaters leaving Mille Lacs, based on a 2010 DNR survey.

Hubbard County is home to four major watersheds - the Mantrap Chain, Fish Hook River Chain, Crow Wing River Chain and Long Lake.

An infestation could affect nearly every major lake, Grob said. This would likely cause a significant tax revenue gap, he said. A Wisconsin study showed a 13 percent reduction of property values on lakes with Eurasian milfoil.

"Zebra mussels will be more," he predicts.

"Watercraft inspection is the name of the game," he said. Treatment of infestation is $500-plus per acre.

Grob indicated two levels of inspection can be employed.

The first level is educating the boat owner and suggesting decontamination. Law enforcement would be called if necessary.

With the second level, the inspector would have the authority to go into the boat, look in live wells and deny launch, if necessary.

Focus areas of prevention in the season ahead are:

• Increased watercraft inspections on high-risk lakes;

• Substantial increase in lake monitoring and volunteer inspections (60 are currently trained);

• Additional lake association funding for inspections;

• Seeking grants for public awareness and inspection;

• Ensuring lake service providers are certified;

• Engaging campground and resort owners to participate in watercraft inspection, and

• Outreach - to promote, communicate and educate.

Dick Boehmer, Belle Taine AIS Task Force member provided the council with a list of "proactive" plans for the summer ahead.

These include water testing and inspections of watercraft, expanded solicitation of lake association membership, establishing a permanent AIS fund and applying for grants.

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