Battle over plan to restrict access to metro lakes

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2012 - 1:43 AM

There's angry debate over an ambitious plan to have every boat inspected and every public boat access from Minneapolis' Chain of Lakes to Lake Minnetonka to have electronic gates regulating access.

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At a Minnehaha Creek Watershed District open hearing, Lake Minnetonka fisherman Jay Green expressed his views on proposed invasive species measures.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Angry boaters and anglers fought Thursday to defend their longstanding unfettered access to Minnesota lakes in light of controversial measures urged by lakeshore homeowners that would push regulation of public boat launches to a new level.

The tense clash between anglers and homeowners came at a Minnehaha Creek Watershed District meeting in Excelsior, where a new coalition of lake associations presented an ambitious $8 million plan. Its members want every boat to be inspected and every public boat access from Minneapolis' Chain of Lakes to Lake Minnetonka to have electronic gates regulating access. Only such drastic measures, they say, can stop the spread of invasive species such as zebra mussels.

Many boaters who spoke at the meeting were dismayed by the plan. "It's a lot of Chicken Little rhetoric," Shawn Kellett, an Excelsior resident and member of the Minnesota Muskie and Pike Alliance, said. "Ithink you are really trying to pigeonhole the boaters."

The coalition's pitch for aggressive measures drew about 150 lake residents, mayors, legislators, boaters, anglers and marina owners to the meeting, where homeowners' concerns and freedom for one of Minnesota's most popular traditions collided.

Both sides agreed that the implications of the bold proposal could spread beyond the west metro to lakes statewide.

"This is the battleground," Kellett said. "This is the template so many places are going to use [if the proposal is approved]."

The Watershed District's board did not respond to or vote on the plan Thursday, instead merely hearing out the appeal from the lakes area residents who make up the Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters, as well as objections to that plan.

Among the residents' recommendations are ratcheting up boat inspections,installing electronic gates at every one of the 30 accesses and shutting down low-volume access points. They also propose setting up inspection stations at popular access points while building regional inspection stations that boaters going into less popular access points would have to trek to in order to get inspected before being given a keypad code to get access to another lake.

"Year after year, our state hasn't adequately addressed this issue,"said Joe Shneider, chairman of the coalition and a Christmas Lake resident. "We're convinced this is the only proven approach."

The proposal would have ramifications for Twin Cities anglers, jet skiers, boaters, residents and private marinas alike because the watershed covers a huge area. It spans Hennepin and Carver counties, 29 west metro cities, the Three Rivers Park District, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board territory, several lake associations, eight creeks and 129 lakes.

That's why Thursday, many boaters and avid anglers expressed concern about how the coalition's ideas could affect convenient access, introduce new fees and privatize public lakes. Others criticized Shneider and his fellow leaders for rushing invasive-species prevention even as several other local and state task forces are developing their own plans.

Most of all, many boaters said they felt targeted.

"I have a problem with that assumption that I don't know what I'm doing," said Jay Green of Mound, a member of Anglers for Habitat who is on the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District aquatic invasive species (AIS) task force. "I have a problem with public money being used to restrict public access."

Shneider countered that increased inspections and evolution of boater behavior is needed if the region wants to stop the spread of invasive species such as zebra mussels and others that are on the cusp of clogging Minnesota's pristine lakes.

"This plan does not stop access," he said. "This plan stopsAIS."

While the Watershed District would have the authority -- and public money -- to lead and pay for the residents' recommendations, its board members also reminded residents thattheyhave to gather input from all stakeholders.

"This is one idea among many," board member Jeff Casale said. "They all need to be considered."

A representative of theMinnesota Department of Natural Resources attended the meeting but didn't voice support or opposition to Shneider's group's plan.

The DNR has added 150 inspectors statewide, started roadside boat checks and increased fines this year, but Shneider and other lake association members have still been highly critical of the agency for not taking bigger steps to prevent the spread of invasive species in the state's more than 3,000 public accesses and 11,800 lakes.

"We have a systematic problem to our behavior in our state right now," Shneider said, adding that an urgent plan is needed because "AIS isn't waiting."

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

  • $8 million

    proposed plan to regulate all public boat access in the Watershed District to help stop the spread of invasive species

    129 lakes and eight creeks are included in the district, which covers 29 west metro cities in Hennepin and Carver counties.
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