More money in the fight against aquatic invasive species
More money is now in the fight to keep invasive species from spreading across the lakes area but just how those dollars will be put to use is still being decided.
The Legislature allocated $4.5 million in funding through county program aid to fight aquatic invasive species as of July.
Crow Wing County expects to receive about 4.5 percent of the total, or $202,713, this year as of July 1 and $450,473 in 2015 and beyond.
The state is designating dollars for each county based on the number of watercraft trailer launches and parking spaces.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Thiede, a member and longtime proponent of the Mississippi Headwaters Board (MHB), said the MHB could combine resources from eight area counties. Those eight counties have 29 percent of the public landings in the state, Thiede said, and moving forward on a broader basis may be able to leverage the state dollars more effectively. Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca and Morrison counties combined are expected to receive $1.121,182 this year and $2,471,218 in 2015 and beyond.
Thiede said collectively the counties are a pretty big player and cooperatively may have more influence. The intensity of requests for funding will increase, Thiede said.
Lake associations have been bearing the brunt of the financial burden to fight invasive species. The lake associations hired seasonal boat inspectors to staff landings. Twenty inspectors are starting this weekend, staffing 20 landings on 17 lakes.
In previous years the county received $7,750 in funding from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help fund inspections at boat landings this year. In March, the county expected the state grant to be reduced to $4,000. The DNR works through the county instead of directly with lake associations.
Land Services Director Mark Liedl said the lake associations spent more than $500,000 and this money would help offset their costs to keep the inspection program continuing.
Administrator Tim Houle suggested using the money as a matching grant to help defray lake association spending.
Thiede said if the MHB were used funds could be distributed based on the landings but the management of the whole system may be more efficient.
Mitch Brinks, the county’s water protection specialist, recommended subsidizing all eligible lake associations at a rate of $14.40 per inspection hour from July 1 through Oct. 31. Lake associations or lake improvement districts that previously conducted invasive species inspections in recent years would be eligible. With new funds, increased inspections were considered likely.
In a report to commissioners, Brinks noted the Initiative Foundation also received $4 million in funding from the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for aquatic invasive species prevention pilot programs and that effort could work well with county funding that could be used for matching dollars.
Other ideas included providing associations with watercraft landings up to $250 for education and outreach to homeowners and visitors.
For the long term, the county proposed using the MHB to coordinate the program with one coordinator rather than having each county hire an employee to do the work.
The MHB is expected to discuss the subject at a June 20 board meeting and the issue could be back before Crow Wing County commissioners on June 24.