ST. PAUL -- There is early support for a plan to recognize clean Minnesota lakes, but criteria that would be used to make that designation is murky.
A proposal by state Sen. Mary Olson would create a voluntary program to name Minnesota lakes that meet clean-water standards and are protected by environmentally friendly landowners as Star Lakes. Under her initial plan, the designation could result in recognition on roadway signs as well as economic benefits to the property owners.
Olson, a DFLer who lives on a lake near Bemidji, said she wants to promote the work of lake associations and state officials to improve a lake's condition. That could include boosting water quality results, preventing the introduction of invasive species and growing native vegetation on shoreline, she said.
She invited lake association members from her northern Minnesota legislative district to the Capitol Tuesday for an initial discussion of the plan.
Olson's proposal is based on Minnesota's "Star City" program, which was started in the early 1980s to reward cities for economic development work. She said the need to protect the quality of water in Minnesota's lakes is important to the state economy.
The plan could be popular with some lake associations and may encourage lakeshore property owners around the state to improve the quality of water in their backyard, Mary Kowalski said.
"With the right incentives, it could be a motivator," said Kowalski, who spends summers at property on Lake Roosevelt in Cass and Crow Wing counties.
A second meeting to discuss the issue is being planned for mid-January in the Hackensack area, Olson said.
Chuck Diessner, who has property on Potato Lake in Hubbard County, said a Star Lake proposal should include criteria requiring an analysis of lake vegetation. Lake associations can do that relatively inexpensively, he said.
"If you're going to be a Star Lake, it seems to me you've got to know what you've got" growing in and around the lake, he said.
Diessner was skeptical of one proposed benefit for property owners on lakes that receive the special designation. Olson and others suggested those property owners receive tax incentives for certain water and environmental clean-up efforts.
That could hurt property owners elsewhere who are making the same improvements but do not live on the state-recognized lakes, he said.
"I just think that's asking for trouble," Diessner said.
The freshman lawmaker said she will introduce a bill detailing the plan during the 2008 legislative session, but said it could take longer than a year to become law. Olson said at least 10 legislators have encouraged her to move forward with the plan.
Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria said he likes the idea of recognizing lake associations that take the extra step to improve water quality.
Ingebrigtsen, who lives on a lake himself but was not at the Tuesday meeting, said Olson's was a DFL plan he could support.
"If Democrats got some tax incentives for lakeshore owners, I'd certainly be in favor of that," he joked.
Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.