Zebra mussels, property values, and Chicken Little

A story in the Park Rapids, Minn., newspaper last week caught my
attention. The topic was zebra mussels, and the main person quoted
was a county commissioner from Kandiyohi County.

That county, and the Green Lake association – for good reason –
has been especially worried about zebra mussels getting into that
lake.

Early in the story, he was quoted as saying that property values on
lakes in the Alexandria area where zebra mussels have been found
had dropped by 30 percent. But it didn’t say where that information
had come from.

It surprised me because zebra mussels were found in Lake L’Homme
Dieu on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes in June of 2009. My family
has a cabin on Lake Carlos, which is connected to L’Homme Dieu, and
I can attest to the fact these things spread quickly. Last fall,
just 16 months after they were initially found, we saw zebra
mussels on many of our dock posts and on both boat lifts.

But a 30-percent property value decline in that short time span?
And to attribute that to zebra mussels? Hard to believe.

So I sent the commissioner an email, asking where he got his
information. (After all, if the property value decline were true,
that’s a pretty good way to convince others to be vigilant about
not letting zebra mussels get into other lakes.)

A day later, the commissioner responded that he heard it on TV,
from a “Ron Scheraq.” (He noted the name was probably misspelled.)
I assume he meant Ron Schara, but a follow-up email hasn’t been
returned. So I called Schara. He assured me he didn’t report
anything like that.

I also checked with a couple of people in the Alexandria area who
keep close tabs on the real estate market. A 30-percent drop in
property values? News to them.

DNR officials also say they haven’t seen the data to support the
claim.

At this point, it seems like Kandiyohi County guy was making it up
as he went along. Based on his assertion that Alexandria property
values fell 30 percent, he’s quoted in the newspaper – and the
story has since run elsewhere – as saying if that happens in
Kandiyohi County, it would be the “biggest bombshell this county
has ever seen.”  

So far, there doesn’t seem to be any information that backs up his
claims. Might property values fall because of zebra mussels? Sure.
And that would be a huge deal. You can’t minimize the potential
impact these things might have.

The problem with what he said is this: It seems like Chicken Little
stuff to me.

Nobody wants zebra mussels in their lakes, and these things are
problematic. We should do as much as we can to prevent them from
spreading to other lakes. But when hysteria takes over – your
property values are going to plummet! – without the evidence to
back it up, it’s not going to be long before people quit
listening.

And when people probably contribute greatly to the spread of these
invasives, a public that’s tuned out on the issue isn’t a good
thing.

 

Categories: Joe Albert

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