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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Sen. Skoe connects Lake Bemidji to Red Lake at Beltrami County board meeting

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BELTRAMI COUNTY -- Beltrami County commissioners began Tuesday’s meeting discussing statewide issues with Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and concluded with a possible solution to a local problem.

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Skoe, chairman of the Senate tax committee, updated commissioners on progress at the capitol including payback of the school shift, accelerated sales tax and putting $150,000 in reserve funds. He also brought up the topic of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

“If we don’t figure out a way to stop this and we end up with zebra mussels and other plants and animals in our lakes that are invasive in that nature,” Skoe said. “It will change the recreation and the culture of Minnesota.”

Skoe, a wild rice farmer with a vested interest in the state’s wetlands, said the state and local government need to work together in an effort to deflect AIS. Skoe said the state hasn’t seen the progress anticipated and it is turning to counties to help through soil and water conservation districts and lakes associations.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a tax bill that will add $10 million in state funds to target preventing the spread of invasive species. Skoe said the state expects counties to band together to protect Minnesota lakes and bodies of water.

“We understand water doesn’t recognize your borders,” Skoe said. “Clearwater Lake is an example, the county line goes right down the middle of Clearwater Lake.”

Skoe added Lake Bemidji and lakes in Beltrami County, Red Lake and up to Lake of the Woods are the heart of the AIS fight.

“Really truly, if you get zebra mussels in Lake Bemidji and some of the lakes around here, they’re going to clean up the water so much that the big fish don’t have food to eat and so your fishing is going to be diminished,” Skoe said. “Zebra mussel shells are so sharp and they tend to wash up on the sand beaches so you can’t walk barefoot and have to wear shoes and sandals on beaches.”

Red Lake Health and Human Services

In relation to AIS, Skoe said Beltrami County is a partner with the state in delivering services to Minnesotans. In regard to partnerships, Commissioner Joe Vene said he would like to see a more seamless service delivery system throughout Beltrami County and extending into Red Lake. Red Lake had a Health and Human Services office until approximately two years ago.

Beltrami County Health and Human Services Economic Assistance Director John Pugleasa updated commissioners on projects within the department including an interactive technology system that may extend the Beltrami County Health and Human Services reach into more rural areas of Beltrami County -- including the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

“We’re looking at a video presence in Red Lake to be able to do interviewing via video conferencing,” Pugleasa said. “It’s something we’ve been looking into for a couple, three, years.”

Red Lake Chairman Darrell Seki indicated he would like to see a Beltrami County Health and Human Services office on the reservation once again during his inauguration acceptance speech on June 10.

Pugleasa said the program, a partnership between the county, state and Red Lake Nation, is scheduled for a test run Tuesday, pending delivery of equipment from the state. Beltrami County is the first in the state to pilot the program. Staff from New Beginnings, tribal liaisons and the Indian Health Service were instrumental in working with the county and state on the ITV program.

“I think it’s a great thing, it’s been a long time coming,” said Commissioner Tim Sumner, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation. “I also believe the Red Lake IT department deserves credit.”

Red Lake Nation is located in the central portion of Sumner’s district 4 along with the majority of rural Beltrami County. Pugleasa added the technology would be useful not only in Red Lake but in other less reachable areas given the geography of the county.

Skoe said Beltrami County may want to look at the model the White Earth Reservation and Mahnomen, Becker and Clearwater counties follows in which White Earth Nation has taken over providing health and human services for its members.

“There are some benefits to that in that there is 100 percent reimbursed coming from the federal government,” Skoe explained. “I think the opportunity is to provide better, more culturally appropriate services, but also relieve some of the financial burdens from the property tax payers and state.”

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Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts and Beltrami county government for The Bemidji Pioneer. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
(218) 333-9200 x343
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