War on invasive species ramps up in west metro

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2012 - 12:59 AM

Regulating every public boat access in the west metro is part of a bold plan.

A new group wants to ratchet up control of local lakes and creeks with a bold $8 million plan to regulate every public boat access in the west metro -- from Minneapolis' Chain of Lakes to sprawling Lake Minnetonka.

That would mean controversial steps that may not be popular with anglers and boaters, such as installing electronic gates at every one of the 30 accesses in the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, shutting down some access points and requiring every boater to go to regional inspection stations before entering a lake.

They're urgent, "take-no-prisoners" ideas that leaders say are needed to stop -- not just slow -- the war against aquatic invasive species because the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' efforts are failing.

"It's time to quit screwing around," said Joe Shneider of Shorewood, president of the Christmas Lake Homeowners Association. "It's big, it's bold and quite frankly, we're hoping that other areas not in the watershed will glom on."

His lake association and seven others banded together last week to create the Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters to protect Lake Minnetonka and nearby waterways from milfoil, zebra mussels and other invasive species on the cusp of threatening Minnesota's pristine lakes. Their plan covers a huge area spanning Hennepin and Carver counties, 29 west metro cities, the Three Rivers Park District, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, several lake associations, eight creeks and 129 lakes.

They're hoping the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District will take the lead -- and cut the check for the first year's $2.4 million in costs -- and will present their plan to the district Thursday. Watershed board chair Jim Calkins said the board won't vote on it, but may consider wrapping some or all the ideas into its own plan to be released by the end of the year.

"We're pleased to have that input," he said. "It encompasses groups we would've been working with anyway."

Bold new rules at every lake

The DNR wouldn't comment yet on the coalition's specific ideas, spokesman Chris Niskanen said, but with more than 3,000 public accesses and 11,800 lakes in Minnesota, the lack of DNR efforts is "not a criticism, that's a reality," he said. "The DNR has been given a limited budget on this."

This year, the DNR added 150 inspectors to check boats throughout the state, started roadside checks and increased fines for violators. And yet, one in five boaters ignore regulations such as pulling drains.

"If we keep waiting for the DNR to be ramping up ... it's going to be game over," Shneider said.

That's why, he said, every boat should be inspected before entering a lake. To post inspectors at every access would require about $40,000 for each place for a year, so the group has a solution: install electronic gates at every access so boaters have to go to one of four regional inspection stations to get an electronic keypad code that would open the gate.

The coalition also wants to require inspectors at private marinas, close some private accesses or at least install gates at them and shut down low-volume accesses, which they acknowledge would be controversial.

"Anything short of this is just a slogan," said Dick Osgood, director of the Lake Minnetonka Association. "Controlling those access points will be a significant reduction in the risk."

The coalition is appealing to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District because it would have the authority -- and public money -- to lead and pay for the effort in the first year before they ask cities, counties and others to share in future costs. They're lobbying the district now because its 2013 budget will be approved next month.

A 'nightmare' for boaters

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District board member Pam Blixt understands the urgency, but as a public entity, she said the board has to balance ideas from all stakeholders, limiting the spread of invasive species but also maintaining access.

"They're really impatient because they're property owners, but you have to consider the rest of the public," she said. "It's very ambitious, and I commend them. If you don't have that groundswell and grassroots effort I don't think it would move forward."

A watershed district task force with city leaders, anglers and other representatives is working to draft a plan for future invasive species prevention and has considered nearly all the ideas the coalition is now suggesting, Calkins said. No matter what, he and others expect some pushback from boaters for what is approved.

On Lake Minnetonka, fishing guide Doug Warren said he supports slowing invasive species, but the new ideas are 10 years too late and would be a "nightmare" to enforce on busy Lake Minnetonka.

"Regulating stuff with a keypad I don't think is feasible," he said. "For anyone that has a boat, this is going to be a big dal."

Shneider and Osgood say they know their ideas won't be palatable for all anglers, but that the invasive species situation is now a new reality for one of Minnesota's most popular traditions. They likened their suggestions to the tighter airport security regulations implemented over the past decade.

"We didn't like it in the beginning, and we still might not like it, but we accept it," Shneider said. "This is a huge behavioral change; it's a huge mindset shift."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

MINNEHAHA CREEK WATERSHED DISTRICT

8 creeks 129 lakes

30 public accesses

  • IF YOU GO

    What: Minnehaha Creek Watershed District board meeting.

    When: 6:45 p.m. Thursday.

    Where: Freshwater Society, 2500 Shadywood Rd., Excelsior.

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