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County acts to allow 'educators'

Lake associations, townships, cities, sportsmen groups and other organizations will now be able to hire aquatic invasive species educators to work public accesses in Becker County, under an emergency resolution approved by the county board Tuesday.

The process had been held up after the county balked at signing a new “delegation agreement” with the DNR regarding inspection activity at accesses, citing liability concerns.

Under the emergency resolution approved Tuesday, the county will handle hiring, payroll processing and worker’s compensation insurance for paid AIS educators.

Funding for the positions will come from whatever organization hires them, said County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

Several large lake associations in the area are considering hiring educators to work the accesses, and other organizations have also expressed interest, Ingstad said.

“We want to make it happen for any lake that wants to provide these educators — they’ll be trained by the DNR,” Ingstad said.

The next training session is Thursday in Alexandria.

Commissioners wanted flexibility in allowing a variety of groups to hire educators, and under the emergency resolution the county will sign a memorandum of understanding with each organization that wants to use the educators.

Because the county hasn’t signed the delegation agreement, those working the accesses will be educators, not inspectors with the right to “deny launch” and keep boats off a lake.

But the county has already hired two seasonal AIS deputies and equipped them with squad cars — and they will respond and help the educators if they have problems with boaters.

The two deputies were hired off a county roster of eligible law enforcement officers.

The DNR has given its blessing to the county’s plan, even without the delegation agreement, Ingstad said. “The DNR has been helping us, they have been very cooperative with us,” he said. “They understand we’re trying to work through these issues.”

Although the county can’t apply for inspection-oriented DNR grants, there are a number of “education and other grants we are able to apply for,” Ingstad said.

The emergency resolution was approved unanimously, and came about because commissioners continued to push for a solution, Ingstad said.

“The board members said if there were options, bring them back, and that’s what we did,” he said.

Those people hired under the new program will be considered emergency county employees, Ingstad said, and their contracts cannot exceed 67 days. AIS educators can expect to be paid about $12 an hour.

Along with the AIS educators program, the county has hired an AIS coordinator and two AIS enforcement deputies for the summer.

Steve Skoog, county environmental services officer, is leading the county effort against AIS.

The next DNR training for the northwest region will be held in Lake George at the Town Hall on Saturday, June 8, according to KDLM Radio.

More information on AIS educator trainings can be found on the DNR website, or by calling Becker County Environmental Services.

Detroit Lakes City Administrator Bob Louiseau said he understands why the county is reluctant to sign the delegation agreement.

“Anytime somebody is going to delegate to you their authority and all the liability that goes with it, yeah, it gives me pause,” he said. “It always makes me  a little bit nervous when someone has the authority and they want to delegate it off.”

The city has budgeted $10,000 from its food and beverage sales tax to help with the AIS inspection program.

“The lake associations would like us to work with the county and support the educator-inspector concept the county is going to be doing,” he said.

If the city council opts to proceed with the plan, the money would be targeted at lake associations for Detroit Lake and Long Lake (which are both within city limits) using the new county program.

Louiseau likes the idea of using educators, since most lake accesses in the county will be unpatrolled most of the time.

“Education is the key element here,” he said. “You have to ask what’s going to get you the most bang for your investment, especially when you’re talking significant dollars.”

The city is also working with the Pelican River Watershed District on controlling flowering rush, which he said is “still one of our top invasive priorities.”

“We will be spraying the beach (with the commercial herbicide Diquat, which was quite effective last year),” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever get rid of it, but if we can get it knocked down to a reasonable level, that would be helpful.”