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Sheriff's Corner: Water safety a top priority in Cass County

Over the years, Cass County has updated its fleet of equipment to be able to respond to the wide variety of needs that the increased recreational opportunities create for our county and sheriff’s office.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch

With 563 lakes within Cass County, it’s no surprise that we are a major recreational destination area. With over 250,000 acres of water, the public does not have to go far to find fun on the water, which can create opportunities for incidents to occur.

With a county population of 27,150, Cass County has a recreational draw of people both during the summer — when the population can exceed 100,000 — and during the winter months for its ice fishing, skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, ATVs and other activities.

The Cass County Sheriff's Office Recreation Division is responsible for responding to incidents that are on these lakes, waterways, trails and woods.

The State Boat and Water Safety Grant Program is used to assist in funding boat and water safety programs carried out through the county sheriff’s offices. The goal is to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage on state waters. Funds are utilized by the county for patrol, enforcement, search and rescue, buoying, removal of hazards to navigation, boat and water safety outreach, inspection of watercraft for rent, lease or hire, watercraft and water accident investigation, and search, rescue or recovery of accident victims.

With the assistance of the Federal Boating Safety Supplemental Patrol Grants, Cass County has been assisted in funding additional boating safety patrol hours on lakes and rivers in an effort to reduce accidents. The program is designed to add hours as follows:

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  • To the lakes and rivers with the most boat use, 
  • During times when use is highest, 
  • During nighttime hours when accidents may occur. 

The grant period usually starts in mid-May and ends on Labor Day. This grant is designed to specifically target certain high impact boating violations, including: boating while intoxicated, personal watercraft operation, careless operation, carriage and use of lifejackets and navigation light usage. Counties must submit a written patrol plan/schedule with the grant forms and a narrative/activities summary upon completion.
Over the years, Cass County has updated its fleet of equipment to be able to respond to the wide variety of needs that the increased recreational opportunities create for our county and sheriff’s office. The Federal Boating Safety Supplemental Equipment Grant is designed to assist counties, through their sheriff’s offices, in funding boating safety equipment and aids to navigation needs. This grant helps them to carry out their legislatively mandated boating safety duties. Cass County has been fortunate to have received grant funds to purchase boats, trailers and motors designed to enhance patrol and respond to incidents as quickly and safely as possible, in accordance with the grant goal of reducing deaths, injuries and property damage on state waters. A set of criteria is used to evaluate grant applications. A panel of three boat and water safety staff independently rates each item applied for on a scale from 1 to 10, based on these qualifications.

Staged and stored throughout the county, some of the units that we have received on grant awards are as follows: 2007 Boston Whaler Justice with trailer, 2008 Boston Whaler Patrol with trailer, 2008 Warrior with motor and trailer, 2012 Polar Kraft with trailer, 2009 G3 John Shallow/Mud boat (used in response to low water situations, rivers, etc), 2013 Mercury Motor utilized on our pontoon buoy work barge and three Lund Alaskan 18-foot patrol boats used to respond quickly to emergencies.

Currently, the sheriff's office has boats permanently on Leech Lake, Gull Lake, Woman Lake, Pleasant Lake and the Outing lakes area. Other county lakes are patrolled by deputies as time allows and while responding to lake incidents or complaints.

Volunteers provide a valuable resource in the Boat and Water Safety Program. They patrol Woman Lake, Pleasant Lake, Gull Lake and the Outing lakes area. Volunteers, such as Gull Area Lakes Association, also assist in taking responsibility for and maintaining many of the buoys on lakes within the county.

While maintaining and updating our fleet is a constant project, we are confident that we have the resources necessary to respond to incidents and emergencies in the county and much of this has been possible through the federal and state partnerships with grant opportunities.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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