Prospects dim for Mille Lacs special session
St. Paul — While it’s clear change is coming to Lake Mille Lacs – walleyes will be stocked and a new management structure will be put in place – the likelihood of a special legislative session to aid area businesses seems to be diminishing.
Gov. Mark Dayton had called for a special legislative session on the heels of the DNR closing the lake’s walleye season Aug. 3, but lawmakers have been cool to the idea. A legislative working group had met three times, but its meeting last Thursday ended abruptly, with co-chair Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, saying there’s no reason for the group to meet again unless Dayton calls a special session. Hackbarth also said Dayton hasn’t presented a detailed plan about what he wants.
A special session likely would deal primarily with financial assistance to businesses in the Lake Mille Lacs area.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said the Legislature doesn’t want a special session. “There’s too much angst over this. There’s too much unknown,” he said.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, also was hesitant about taking action to help businesses in only one part of the state.
“When do we do this specifically for one group and not for everyone?” Tomassoni said. “I think that’s one of the things that’s got a lot of legislators confused right now.”
Speaking by phone from Guadalajara, Mexico, in the midst of a trade mission last Thursday, Dayton urged lawmakers to give Mille Lacs businesses some clarity on whether financial help was coming. He expressed hope they could hold a special session in the near future.
After the working group froze talks, Dayton called it “playing games, rather than providing help.”
“If they do not want to help Mille Lacs resorts and residents in a special session, they should say so,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.
Before adjourning the meeting and putting the onus on Dayton to get the talks moving again, Hackbarth called the administration’s plan a “basic outline” that needs more detail. In his statement, Dayton shot back, saying lawmakers should counter with their own proposal.
The DNR will conduct its fall netting assessments on Lake Mille Lacs before announcing details of an ice-fishing season for walleyes. Those assessments are done in September and Sarah Strommen, DNR assistant commissioner, said details would be available by the middle of October.
Hackbarth said the DNR should be able to provide information sooner than that. Karen McQuoid, of the Mille Lacs Area Tourism Council, urged the agency to expedite the process to provide some certainly to the business community.
“I would beg you to (make the information available before mid-October) – even Oct. 1 is too late,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.