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Kent Eken Senate District 4 DFL candidate. Submitted Photo

Sounding off on AIS and DNR lands

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Eight candidates for four open seats in the Minnesota Legislature -- Senate Districts 2 and 4, and House Districts 2B and 4B -- were in attendance at a legislative candidates forum this past Thursday night in Detroit Lakes.

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Rod Skoe and Dennis Moser (Dist. 2), Brita Sailer and Steve Green (Dist. 2B), Kent Eken and Phil Hansen (Dist. 4), Paul Marquart and Paul Sandman (Dist. 4B) each took turns answering questions.

Because the event was hosted by the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA), questions focused exclusively on the environment, and more specifically, on water quality issues.

One of the key questions defining the differences between the candidates was the very first one, which asked each candidate to define what they meant by the term "protect," and how that pertains to using state funds to combat the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and keep the state's water supply clean.

"That money that's spent to keep our water clean, we definitely want to make sure that it's used in the right area," said Hansen. "AIS is something that is front and center right now."

He noted that some state funds are already in the process of being allocated to combat the movement of Asian carp -- a form of aquatic invasive species -- into Minnesota.

"AIS presents a clear and present danger right now, and to free up funds to get it done (i.e., prevent the spread of invasives) should be done right now -- short answer," he added.

"I do believe that 'protect' includes the addressing of aquatic invasive species," Eken said. "We've had some problems with this issue because the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council ... has been very resistant to using this money for anything that's outside of, primarily, land acquisition.

"I think we already have more land than I feel we can adequately maintain at this point in time. I think we need to be using this money for the purposes of addressing things like the clean water and aquatic invasive species," Eken added. "The council makes recommendations, but we as legislators have the final say on that, and I for one have always been willing to make the final decision that we should dedicate a significant portion of this money toward addressing aquatic invasive species."

"As far as protecting, you can't be reactive, you've got to be proactive," Sandman said. "That's something the Legislature has to do ... be proactive in protecting the water.

"So what happens after the water has been contaminated? Do you sit back and go, 'Well, we missed that one'? No, you've got to still be proactive and take care of it. So I think you use the Legacy funds and you use whatever's available and you attack the situation.

"Protecting doesn't just end with a bill being passed by the Legislature," he added. "You have to have people out there (volunteers) acting on it, and you have to have the funds available to help those people, and that's what it takes here... we need to fight this, and we need to do it together."

"Protect to me means fighting aquatic invasive species -- zebra mussels, flowering rush and everything else," said Marquart. "Believe it or not, the foot did get in the door this year, because there was $1.8 million that is coming out of the Clean Water Fund, which is part of the Legacy Fund, along with $2 million from the Environmental Trust Fund -- a total of $3.8 million -- for the University of Minnesota to do research on zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species. That's a huge step in the right direction. We need to do much more.

"But it's not just research," he added. "I also believe that protection means education and enforcement ... the money should go to all of those areas for protection. We really need to ramp that up."

Skoe said he would define the term "protect" as meaning, "We're going to pass on to the next generation the same quality of water that was passed on to us -- and that doesn't have AIS in it. We've made some small steps with some of the research on figuring out ways to kill this, and that's going to be the final solution.

"But where we're absolutely failing is in preventing the spread while we're figuring how to kill these aquatic invasive species," he added.

Skoe said that he feels the Legislature needs to "get aggressive" when it comes to AIS prevention, and "if we've got to close some (public accesses), we're going to close some accesses. We need to get this under control. It's important for our state."

"I'm kind of a literal person so if you ask me what 'protect' means, I would say it means, to keep from harm or from damage," said Moser. "This is what we need to do with our lakes and streams."

He went on to use the example of a wetland that existed on his property when he purchased it, and first the state told him to drain it and farm the land, which he did not want to do, then U.S. Fish & Wildlife came to him a few years later and said they wanted to take the land away from him because they needed to restore the wetlands.

"Sometimes we have to be careful about getting government too involved in our lives," Moser said. "I believe that we need accountability and we need responsibility, from the landowners and from the lake associations.

"When you say that, you also have to have somebody overseeing it ... I think we need to sell back some of the land that the DNR has bought, and we need to use that money to protect our lakes and streams and put the land back on the tax rolls."

"We are spending millions and millions of dollars to buy millions and millions of acres of land that the DNR in their own reports said they cannot manage," said Green. "The Legacy funds I thought were a joke when (the amendment) was passed. We were lied to about the things that they said that money was going to go for, and we fight Lessard-Sams for every dime.

"As far as control and protect, to the best of my knowledge, we've still got zebra mussels coming in through our Great Lakes, and they haven't even stopped that yet. How do you intend to control a problem when you haven't even stopped it at the source? That's where we have to start. It's really simple...

"Is closing the accesses an option? I guess if it's a last resort, it's probably an option. I like the (proposed) decontamination centers, and we do need to educate the people (about AIS)."

"My definition of protecting the area is safeguarding, enforcement, education and partnerships," said Sailer. "That's what I see in place, or beginning to be in place already...

"I think of education, in particular, needing to go hand-in-hand with enforcement," she added. "Education only goes so far, and likewise with enforcement...

"We have to get to a point where everyone realizes that they all participate in this," Sailer continued. "It doesn't matter who you are, we all need to have a stake in this. It has a lot to do with our property values, and tourism, and way of life on our lakes."

Other questions posed during the forum included whether the candidates supported the use of a mandatory, paid AIS decal as a means of providing a long-term funding source for AIS research, enforcement and other prevention methods; whether they felt Minnesota actually had a chance of containing species like zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil to those lakes and rivers that have already been infested; and whether stiffer penalties need to be imposed as a deterrent to spreading AIS.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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