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Lake groups want tougher AIS defense

Unhappy with the current volunteer-based system, area lake associations say it's time to ratchet up the effort to keep zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species out of lakes.

The Height of Land Lake Association wants to close the east public access on that lake because it can't "mount a sufficient access inspection program due to the small number of shoreline residents," Dick Hecock, president of the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations, wrote in a letter to the Becker County Board.

At the August COLA meeting, several member lake associations made it clear they want to go further to keep out aquatic invasives like zebra mussels, Hecock wrote.

Floyd Shores wants to establish a region-wide network of inspection stations with electronic card readers in Becker County.

The Lake Detroiters Association also wants the City of Detroit Lakes to adopt a more comprehensive inspection approach.

The Floyd Shores proposal would be based on a "Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters" proposal that would only allow lake access to boats that had been officially decontaminated.

Those boat-operators would then receive a single-use access code that would allow them to open a gate and use a public access.

"It is to be noted that the proposal Floyd Shores referenced is not a proposal that would close public accesses in Becker County, but rather it speaks to seeking enhanced protection from further infestations in county waters," Hecock wrote to the county board.

"Minor inconveniences have become a way of life for recreationalists since the spread of non-native aquatic life into Minnesota lakes and rivers," he added. "Any additional introduction of aquatic invasives greatly increases the risks to all other Becker lakes."

Lake association members don't have a lot of confidence in the current system, which relies heavily on volunteer AIS inspectors at public accesses, Hecock added.

"There's a general understanding that such infestations will devastate Becker County lakes and its lake-based economy and way of life," he said.

Recent legislation enables the DNR to approve and help set up region-based initiatives to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives. The DNR currently has 15 joint powers agreements in place with various local governments.

COLA asked the county board to direct the county's AIS task force to develop a comprehensive plan for a workable AIS inspection program by open water next year.

The more aggressive plan will be expensive and controversial, and is something that COLA and its lake associations don't take lightly, Hecock said. "However, given the stakes for the county, its residents, businesses, sportsmen and visitors, there can be little doubt that new, more rigorous efforts are required."

The Lake Detroiters Association, for its part, thanked city leaders for supporting efforts to control flowering rush and partner with the volunteer watercraft inspection program on Detroit Lakes.

In a letter to the city, Lake Detroiters Association President Barb Halbakken Fischburg asked the city to "lead an expanded effort in protecting our city lakes (Detroit and Long) from the further introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species, namely zebra mussels."

She asked the city council to work with the county board, Pelican River Watershed District, DNR and other agencies to develop a program that is "more efficient and effective than what is currently in place."

The volunteer program "is not providing adequate protection, nor is it a long-term viable solution," she wrote.

"We need to do something different -- the volunteer program this year didn't work," Terry Kalil, vice president of Becker County COLA, said in an interview.

"There are not enough volunteers available that want to commit their time to protecting public waters," added Halbakken Fischburg. "It's spotty. It's sporadic. What happens in the middle of the night?"

Kalil says Minnesotans need to rethink the notion that they have the right to unfettered access to any lake, any time.

"We don't want to close lakes. We want to funnel access through central controls," she said. "We don't go to state parks and assume we can camp anywhere and cut down any tree. We don't go to museums and demand that they be open in the middle of the night. Every other public space in Minnesota has controls to protect that resource for everyone, for the future.

"And yet when lakes get infested and people are pulling weeds out like crazy, it's too late, there's no going back. If we don't do something, they're gone."

The DNR can't do it alone, Halbakken Fischburg added. That's why the county and city are being asked to get more deeply involved.

"We can stop it, but it will take commitment from the public," she said.

The community meeting scheduled for Aug. 28 is a key first step in the process, she added.

"There is incredible support demonstrated in the community by the chamber of commerce, lake residents, environmentalists, recreationalists and community leaders that support a more effective AIS program," Halbakken Fischburg said.