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Crow Wing County Board: Next year's AIS efforts outlined

Crow Wing County unveiled its plan Tuesday to combat aquatic invasive species in the upcoming year using state funds designated last legislative session and is seeking public input.

Of the $10 million state legislators set aside to fund aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention and decontamination efforts, Crow Wing County received $450,473. Coupled with funding carried over from 2014 and an estimated $5,000 in local government grants from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the total budget for the program is $489,473.

The proposal prepared by Mitch Brinks, water protection specialist with the land services department, outlines spending priorities identified with input from area lake associations and is available to view on the county's website: www.crowwing.us/index.aspx?nid=1004. Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 23 by emailing Brinks at mitch.brinks@crowwing.us or by mail to 322 Laurel St., Suite 14, Brainerd, MN, 56401.

The largest portion of funds - $295,000 - will go toward watercraft inspections at boat accesses, long the focus of AIS prevention both in the county and statewide. The costs associated with inspections include training, equipment and the hourly wages of DNR-trained inspectors.

Nineteen new lakes are included in the access inspection plan, including Round, Whipple and Mille Lacs, and inspection hours on 20 other lakes plus the Whitefish Chain are set to increase by more than 50 percent to 10,000 hours.

As part of the proposal, Brinks identified all public and private landings within the county (not including canoe or carry-in accesses) and ranked them based upon AIS risk level. To determine a risk level, he analyzed overall usage, proximity to AIS-infested waters and infestation status of the lake into which the access allows boat traffic. Those accesses with high to very high risk levels, which includes 50 of 183 throughout the county, will receive the most attention from county-provided inspectors.

For those designated as moderate risk, generally sporadically used public accesses, the county will rely on volunteer inspectors and continued AIS education and awareness efforts. Low risk accesses - little used public or private landings - will receive attention through education efforts coupled with trainings for private landing operators.

The plan calls for allocating $100,000 for zebra mussels decontamination, which will include manning up to five strategically located decontamination stations with inspectors.

Mark Liedl, land services director, told the Crow Wing County Board at its Tuesday committee of the whole meeting that subsidizing private entities to purchase their own decontamination units might encourage more widespread availability.

"This is truly a pilot project ... partnering with local landowners, local businesses to help them provide this service," Liedl said.

The goal with decontamination, he said would be to "establish this as something you do, just like you go to the gas station to put gas in your boat or pick up minnows."

The process takes five to 10 minutes and includes spraying high-temperature water that will kill zebra mussels on contact. There is no cost to boaters to use the stations.

The remaining funds will be designated to education/awareness, milfoil treatment and special projects.

In addition to providing funding to lake associations to increase public awareness, the county plans to increase signage at county-owned and private accesses and to ramp up targeting advertising efforts to educate out-of-town visitors. A total of $45,000 has been designated for these efforts, nearly half of which will cover the costs of signs.

Although the focus in AIS tends to be on zebra mussels, Brinks noted treating Eurasian milfoil might be more attainable given available technologies. Eight lakes in the county are eligible for the treatment, which is estimated to cost $40,000. Those lakes are Bay, Clearwater, Emily, Kimble, Lower Mission, Upper Mission, Ossawinnamakee and Ruth.

The last element of the county's plan focuses on innovations in AIS response. This July, the county plans to test approximately 50 lakes currently identified as not infested with zebra mussels for the presence of veligers, which are the microscopic offspring of the mussels. The results of these samples would identify lakes facing impending infestation and inform the process for designating risk levels of accesses.

Special projects could also include a boat tagging system and the development of rapid response techniques for new infestations.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

(218) 855-5874
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