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Due to AIS, Dunton Locks tram temporarily closed

In hopes of stopping the spread of zebra mussels, Becker County has temporarily closed the tramway that ferries boats between Muskrat Lake and Lake Sallie.

Last week the Department of Natural Resources confirmed aquatic invasive species zebra mussels in Lake Melissa, which is a part of the Pelican River chain of lakes.

The lake chain begins with Detroit Lake and the river travels through Muskrat and Sallie lakes to Lake Melissa.

“The county had looked at the ramifications of having a particular vehicle transport type of thing that moves something from one lake to another as a potential infection source to be blamed should something show up in Detroit,” said Becker County Parks and Recreation Administrator Marty Wiley.

He added that while it was the county’s decision to close the tram, the DNR recommended the closure due to the potential spread of AIS.

“There’s not much of a water drop between Sallie and Melissa, though the water does go downstream from Sallie to Melissa,” Wiley said.

“In the past, we essentially had the same invasives on both sides of the tram, so it wasn’t really an issue.”

Wiley said it’s his understanding that the DNR plans to do further investigation later this summer in Detroit and Sallie lakes to see if there is already a spread to the lakes. If so, then there won’t be an issue with opening the tram back up.

The plans to upgrade the tram are in limbo for now. Wiley said if it’s five to 10 years before something shows up in Detroit Lake and the tram is still closed, prices and efforts can certainly change by then.

“The whole idea of upgrading the tram may be on hold,” he said.

Until that discovery, though, the tram will likely remain closed temporarily.

“It’s a temporary closure, but the real issue is what’s ‘temporary’ mean,” he said.

If the DNR recommends that there is no benefit to the tram staying closed, the county will open it back up.

“Unless I get different direction from the county board, we’re probably looking at it closing as a possible source of getting something into Detroit Lake. We’re trying to prevent that.

“I think we’ve always known in the discussions with the tram, if there was something discovered in Detroit, it wasn’t an issue because it’s clear that everything downstream is infested. But, if something is discovered downstream, we’d probably have to close the tram until the eventual likelihood that Detroit would have something show up.”    

Not that there is a good time to discover an invasive species, but to add insult to injury for the county, the tram was just fixed up and running for two weekends before being shut down.

Earlier this spring the county discussed closing the tram for the year and finding some funding to repair the tram long term. Lake residents protested that move though, and the county spent money to get the tram up and working for this season with a plan for more long term repairs in the near future.

Wiley said he doesn’t have a number for how much money was spent this summer getting the tram running because much of it was work done in-house. A new cable did have to be purchased, though, because last year’s broke when it jumped a pulley.

The tram was open two weekends before closing due to zebra mussels.

“One was a rainy weekend so it didn’t get a lot of business, but the weekend of June 14, it got a lot of business,” Wiley said.

The two operators that were hired for the summer to work at the tram have been shifted to working with the AIS inspector program, so they aren’t out of a job.

“The county is trying to cooperate with the whole invasive species effort. If we can help prevent the future infestation of Detroit, or at least delay it, that’s why the decision was made and the direction it went,” he said.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.