Iowa man cited for dredging in Otter Tail County lake

By Javier Serna
Assistant Editor

Pelican Rapids, Minn. — It’s illegal to remove aquatic plants from lake shoreline in Minnesota without a permit, but every year, a number of lakeshore landowners do it – and find out the consequences later.

Such was alleged to be the case recently, when an Iowa man was cited for illegally dredging without a permit in North Lida Lake in Otter Tail County on Aug. 12.

The incident report noted that Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer Gary Forsberg drove up to the site to find 20 to 30 feet of cattails had turned brown in color from a chemical treatment, a weed roller being operated in an area where he suspected it was not permitted, and about 20 to 30 feet along the shoreline that had been cleared of sediment with a HydroSweep, which looked to have dredged an area about 2 to 3 feet deep.

Forsberg and Lt. Phil Seefeldt, who declined to comment, stating it was an ongoing investigation, returned later to talk with the wife of the landowner, Steven Joseph Speich, of Bettendorf, Iowa, according to the report.

Speich had left the residence, and later was contacted via phone, when he stated he had moved the weed roller to the unpermitted location. He said he thought it would be OK to use it in another spot as long as he did not go over the area allowed under the permit, the incident report states.

Asked about the cattails, Speich, 40, claimed he had burned brush next to the cattails along the shoreline and the fire had burned into the cattails, the report said.

Forsberg told Speich the cattails could be tested for herbicides since they appeared to have been treated with chemicals. Speich said he’d sprayed GroundClear on the area parallel to the cattails and it may have drifted, causing them to die, the report said.

Speich was asked about the HydroSweep, and he told the conservation officers the head of the device had accidentally come loose and pointed downward, the report reads. Speich said the head of the HydroSweep would rotate on its own, causing damage to the lake bottom. Speich claimed he had been using it to push vegetation from the area, the report said, but the officers in the report said it appeared to them that the device had been moved around the dock.

Jerry Wendlandt, a Minnesota DNR aquatic plant management specialist working out of the Glenwood Fisheries office, also was careful not to comment directly on the case, as he has been working with the Law Enforcement Division on it, but he said when citizens properly apply for an aquatic plant management permit, the DNR is required to do a site inspection.

“When we do that, we determine what can or cannot be done,” Wendlandt said. “It is determined by our statutes and rules.”

He noted that landowners wishing to make alterations to their shorelines should do some research on the DNR’s web page on the topic, where they can download a permit application.

“Before people destroy vegetation, they should do their homework and figure out whether or not a permit is required,” Wendlandt said.

That point was echoed by Greg Salo, assistant director of Minnesota DNR’s Law Enforcement Division.

“People need to know the rules, and they should call their local DNR office to find out what they can and cannot do,” Salo said.

Salo, who did not comment specifically on Speich’s case, said weed rollers require a permit, and that HydroSweeps have become a recent issue.

“If they do any excavation on the lake bed, it’s illegal,” Salo said. “In shallower water, those things excavate the bottom. There are some pretty powerful ones out there right now. They can dig a hole that is three or four feet deep.”

Following the rules is important for fish habitat. “Look at any dock, and the bluegills that hang out there,” Salo said. “We need to leave the habitat for the fish.”

Salo said the permitting system is intended to allow landowners to have water access while protecting what’s important.

“We are not going to block anybody from having lake access,” he said. “There are exceptions where you can clear weeds to get in and out. But if you think you are going to clear bulrushes from property line to property line, it’s not going to happen. We have to leave a little something for the lake to be healthy.”

Salo noted that fines can be several hundreds of dollars, and restoration can cost even more.

“If you pull 20 yards of cattails, you are going to have to replace those cattails at your cost,” he said.

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