Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Clash of ideas continues over southwest metro lake access

Deephaven, Minn. — The matter of restricting access to southwest metro lakes isn’t going away anytime soon, and a meeting last week of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District demonstrated nicely how polarizing aquatic invasive species prevention can be.

Telly Mamayek, MCWD communications director, said that to accommodate the expected crowd, the district’s regular board meeting was moved to a larger venue.

“There is a lot of passion about the issue, a lot of interest,” Mamayek said.

Presented at the meeting was a plan recently released by a group that calls itself the Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters, whose membership includes those who helped bring to Hennepin County’s Christmas Lake last year a gate that limits the hours during which anglers can fish the lake. Fishermen and fishing groups had gotten wind that the current plan includes gates at lake accesses, potentially quite a few of them.

According to the coalition’s plan, the AIS invasion will continue in the Minnehaha Creek watershed (which includes eight major creeks, 129 lakes, and thousands of wetlands) “unless a different set of clear and decisive actions are taken to prevent their spread.

“The Minnesota DNR’s current path of improving public awareness, inspecting and decontaminating a small cross-section of watercraft entering/leaving a lake, and enforcing current laws with fines and penalties has not worked,” according to the coalition plan’s summary.

According to that summary, the program recommended by the coalition would cost about $2.4 million the first year. There are options for subsequent years that would affect the cost. The coalition suggests the watershed district pay for first-year costs, as “AIS will not wait for a cost-sharing model to be defined …”

Ultimately, the coalition would like to see regional inspection/decontamination stations where boaters would need to report prior to accessing an area lake. Then, “electronically controlled gates will be used at all public access points for unattended access control of watercraft that pass inspection.”

The vision: “These gates will be configured with keypads to accept the access codes for watercraft that have passed the AIS inspection,” according to the plan.

Mamayek said the MCWD will use the plan in the manner in which it uses other information during the development of a long-term AIS management plan.

Earlier, communities affected by the watershed district’s activities suggested it “take a leadership role,” regarding AIS management, Mamayek said. Since then, more attention and resources have been directed to the issue.

A multi-pronged approach thus far has included cost-share funding for boat and trailer inspectors, educational efforts, and research initiatives, she said.

A task force will continue to develop the plan.

A member of the task force is Vern Wagner, vice president of the Anglers for Habitat. He also attended the watershed district’s board meeting last week. Wagner said the coalition plan is intended to have “total control of what goes on … but doesn’t address a number of other factors.”

One omission, he said: Lakeshore homeowners who bring bait or water onto a lake. Also, riparian homeowners who take their boats onto lakes. “Who’s inspecting that?” Wagner asks.

Further, Wagner said the coalition’s goal of 100 percent inspection of inbound watercraft isn’t realistic. And the figure used by the coalition regarding adherence by boaters to current AIS rules – 80 percent – also is low, he said. That number is used because of a 20-percent violation rate found in initial DNR conservation officer checkpoints around the state.

“That’s not representative of what’s being seen at lakes,” he said.

Wagner said the coalition dismissal of DNR efforts is premature.

“I think it’s too early to say it doesn’t work,” he said of upgrades this year in access-site inspections, additional decontamination units, increased fines for AIS violations, and an overall greater emphasis on enforcement.
Meanwhile, Wagner said he hopes the coalition’s proposal doesn’t disrupt discussions regarding the watershed district’s AIS plan. But, he said, it appears to, for the time being, drawn a line in the sand between some lakeshore residents and sport anglers, in particular.

“I think the proposal polarizes the argument and that it takes away from the (planning) process,” he said.

The MCWD’s long-term planning process was sparked by a DNR response to a draft plan from a year ago. Mamayek said that plan has been abandoned in favor of a new, more inclusive long-range effort.

Among the DNR’s concerns earlier this year: “The DNR does not believe that it has the legal authority to require watercraft operators to go to a remote location for an inspection, which also means that the agency cannot delegate this authority to a local unit of government.”

According to Jim Japs, of the DNR’s Water and Ecological Resources Division, off-site, regionalized inspection of boats and trailers would need to be OK’d by the department.

The DNR also said it has “significant concerns” regarding the proposed installation of gates at accesses, adding “ … gating accesses will be inherently controversial in Minnesota and could create an undesirable backlash to AIS prevention efforts.”

Less than a year ago, the Lake Action Alliance, composed for many of the same members of the current Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters, was successful in lobbying the city of Shorewood for a gate at the Christmas Lake access site. Mamayek said the gate cost about $28,000, of which about 65 percent was paid by the Christmas Lake Association. The watershed district and other entities shared in the cost, too. By former agreement, access must assured during certain hours.

Wagner called the current coalition proposal “the Christmas Lake plan wrapped in different paper, and a lot of paper.”

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