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County AIS coordinator in the works, but more help sought from state

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BEMIDJI — Based on recent comments, Bemidji city councillors and Beltrami County commissioners agree on one thing: the state of Minnesota should bear the brunt of the responsibility for fighting aquatic invasive species.

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How the two bodies handle the threat of AIS with their own legislative powers, however, appeared last week to be different.

One day before Beltrami County administrator Kay Mack told the Board of Commissioners her plan for a paid intern who would serve as an "AIS coordinator," the Bemidji City Council denied a request from Friends of Lake Bemidji for $10,000 to fight water marauders like zebra mussels.

"I understand their trepidation," Mack said of the council’s decision to deny the request. "That’s where I was not long ago."

Mack’s feelings toward AIS changed when lake associations from across the county approached the Board of Commissioners with their concerns.

"The board has indicated they are willing to put some resources into it," Mack said. "They just don’t want to be the sole party responsible for it."

The internship, which Mack said she hopes to have in place for next year’s fishing season, would be paid out of the lakewater monitoring fund, which sits at $20,000 per year. The intern, when chosen, will most likely be a Bemidji State student. And they’ll be responsible for helping lake associations solicit volunteers to inspect watercraft at county boat ramps, or raise money to pay Department of Natural Resources to do the same.

But the DNR, Mack said, needs to take a more active role in battling AIS.

"They should take the lion’s share of the responsibility for this," she said. "They license boats, trailers, and the fishermen that are on those lakes. They just have the capacity (to enforce regulations) way more than a local unit of government does."

Mack’s assessment fell in line with comments from Councillor Roger Hellquist at the council’s July 15 meeting. Mack updated the board on the proposed AIS coordinator the next night.

"I think the least amount of involvement comes from the city on this," Hellquist said.

The recognition of AIS has come from the ground up, Mack said, and local governments should work together to show the DNR how real the threat is. From homeowners on lakes either threatened or already inundated with zebra mussels, rusty crayfish or eurasian watermilfoil, to townships, to county and city governments, the threat must be made apparent to the DNR, who Mack said possesses the greatest authority to fight the unwanted invaders.

"Those lakeshore (home) owners are the ones who are immediately affected," Mack said. "I guess there’s a little bit of desperation. We’ve got to do something. This is the first year they’ve come to the county board with this, and we’re trying to do something about it."

Beltrami County, one of the last in northern Minnesota still in prevention mode, remains AIS-free. But, a problem isn’t necessarily a problem until it appears on your doorstep, Mack said.

"I think one person worded it pretty well, and that’s Ralph Morris (of the Turtle River Watershed Association). He said, ‘We’re on the cusp of indifference and outrage,’" Mack said. "... that as long as it’s not affecting a lake that’s near and dear to people it’s not a big deal, but as soon as it does, people get upset about it."

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Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
(218) 333-9200 x343
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