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Lessard Council sets aside $3M for possible Asian carp barrier

Posted by: Mike Kaszuba under Funding, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, State budgets Updated: September 20, 2011 - 2:20 PM

A key advisory group to the Minnesota Legislature set aside $3 million Tuesday to possibly build an underwater barrier to prevent the spread of Asian carp, but voiced heavy doubt that a plan existed that would be effective.

The 12-member Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which voted Tuesday to recommend $95 million in overall spending from state Legacy sales tax money for the outdoors next year, spent hours trying to decide whether to include emergency money for a possible Asian carp project.

“We don’t know whether the carp are there, or they’re not there” in Minnesota waters, said Wayne Enger, a council member.  Enger and others argued that the underwater barrier technology was unproven, a location for the project had not yet been chosen and state officials had not secured agreements with Wisconsin and federal agencies to help with the project.

But state Department of Natural Resources officials, who asked for $10 million from the advisory group to explore building an underwater sound bubble barrier, possibly across the Mississippi River at Prescott, Wis., said time was critical.  The $3 million, if approved by the Legislature, would be available next July.

“Nobody knows how much time we’ve got” until the voracious carp, which can grow to 60 pounds and out-muscle native species for food, are found in Minnesota waters, said Steve Hirsch, the DNR’s director of ecological and water resources.

DNR officials had supported a 2007 legislative proposal for $5 million for a possible underwater barrier and, the following year, were given $500,000 to begin the project.  Agency officials however acknowledged that much of the start-up money has not been spent because of confusion and misunderstandings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has regulatory power on parts of the river.

A month ago, the DNR announced that there was evidence that Asian carp may be in the St. Croix River.

The council, at one point during Tuesday’s meeting, edged toward holding off on any money for the project and simply recommending  that the $95 million be spent on other projects.  But Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, a council member who also chairs the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, urged his colleagues not to wait.

“We’re telling the DNR, just forget about the Asian carp,” McNamara said in one pointed exchange.  “We’re supposed to be leaders here.  [But] we can’t go quick enough to go to the trough to get every [other] little project on this list funded.

“So the message [to] the DNR is just forget it, we don’t care,” he said.

Council member James Cox objected to McNamara’s comments, and said that the council – created after voters in 2008 adopted the so-called Legacy constitutional amendment – was not to blame.  “The Legislature and DNR [have] done absolutely nothing” about Asian carp, he said.  “So, I think it is a little disingenuous for you to dump this on our lap here today, Denny.

“There is no hard project in front of us,” Cox added.

“For the last 10 years, absolutely nothing has happened.  So to try and put a guilt trip on this council because we’re not addressing the issue I think is pretty disingenuous,” he added.

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