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Bill adds to invasive species fight

Fighting invasive species from carp to zebra mussels like the one shown here is getting a boost from amendments to the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, signed into law this week.

Fighting the advance of invasive species in Minnesota got a boost from changes to the federal Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which governs the use of the nation's waterways.

A key change came in expanding the invasive species definition to include animals, as well as plants, opening the way for more resources in preventing invasive carp and zebra mussels from spreading.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) bill originated in the House Transportation Committee. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., served on the House Transportation Committee and authored the amendments into the bill. Nolan also serves on the WRRDA House-Senate conference committee. The joint committee works out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. There Nolan reported he was able to follow the amendments through to ensure they were in the final version. The bill passed 412-4 in the House. President Barack Obama signed the bill Tuesday.

Nolan's amendments closed the St. Anthony Lock and Dam in Minneapolis, expanded the invasive species definition and prohibited the federal government over time from using the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for other purposes than maintaining waterways.

"The St. Anthony Lock and Dam is the only real barrier left to stop invasive carp from moving north into the Mississippi River watershed, infesting thousands of Minnesota lakes and rivers, and posing a severe threat to our multi-billion dollar sport fishing and tourist industry," Nolan said in a statement. "We are closing the St. Anthony Lock and Dam because we cannot allow our land of ten thousand lakes to become the land of ten million invasive carp."

Reached by phone, Nolan said passing the bill was one of the best bipartisan efforts in this Congress for a long time. He said closing the St. Anthony Lock and Dam was a last, best way to keep invasive carp from the Mississippi River and the Gull Lake Chain, Pine River, Crow Wing River, Lake Winnibigoshish, Mille Lacs Lake, and hundreds of smaller lake chains.

"That's huge for our sport fishing hobbies and sport fishing tourism," Nolan said, adding invasive carp really have a chance to destroy the sport fishing industry. Expanding the invasive species definition to include animals such as invasive carp and zebra mussels is expected give the Army Corps of Engineers tools for research and reduction.

Nolan said he will meet with the Army Corps of Engineers to persuade them to allocate a portion of existing dollars on invasive carp and zebra mussels and will work with the appropriations committee for additional funding.

A National Wildlife Federation map shows the proliferation of invasive carp up the Mississippi River and other water bodies from three red dots on the map 1975 to 2011, when the red dots cover a large swath across the nation's midsection. The aggressive, fast-growing invasive carp — which appear to fly out of the water serving as not only a concern to native fish but a boating hazard as well — are now at the verge of invading the Great Lakes, the federation reported.

The Minnesota DNR stated closing the St. Anthony lock to boat traffic will help keep the invasive carp from spreading north of the Twin Cities. The U.S. Army Corps has a year to close the lock.

Nolan said for many years administrations from both parties raided the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by $7 billion. Money was used for purposes other than dredging and maintaining Great Lakes shipping.

"The result has been a 10-year dredging backlog that has effectively reduced the amount of iron ore, timber, grain and manufactured goods we move out of the Port of Duluth and up the Great Lakes by 20 percent," Nolan stated. "That backlog has cost us thousands of good jobs from the Range to Duluth, and billions of dollars in business activity."

With the amendment, Nolan said each year the government will take less until in 10 years, 100 percent will be used for its intended purpose.

According to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, iron ore (40 percent) and coal (40 percent) account for 80 percent of principle cargo with total shipments in and out of the Port of Duluth-Superior supporting 11,500 jobs, $545 million in wages, and $1.5 billion in business revenue.

One thing that was on Nolan's list to cut that was ultimately reinstated was in the Farm Bill pertains to Motley. Nolan said Motley has the highest per capita number of workers in seafood processing in any community in the nation. Seafood processing inspections were handled by the Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) catfish inspection program was authorized in 2008.

Nolan said the USDA catfish inspection program would cost $170 million during the next decade and means while an FDA inspector is there looking at every other kind of fish, a USDA inspector will also be there waiting for a catfish to inspect.

"It's the duplication and wasteful government spending that just drives people crazy," Nolan said.

Nolan and Republican Rep. Vicki Hartzler, Missouri, were part of a bipartisan effort to eliminate the program from the House version of the Farm Bill.

This week, Nolan said the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi, wanted the inspections back in to protect southern catfish producer and he wouldn't approve the bill unless it was restored.

Nolan stated it was "a ridiculous and shameful waste of taxpayers' money" and forces businesses like Morey's and Trident in Motley that are providing good jobs "to comply with expensive and unnecessary regulations that cost jobs and reduce business efficiency."

Nolan said it's an issue they are going to make another effort to stop by killing the appropriations for it.

Even with a setback in plans to eliminate the USDA catfish inspection program, Nolan said he was proud of what they were able to accomplish with the WRRDA bill.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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