Minnesota boaters will get random road stops this week

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2012 - 8:53 PM

The crackdown aims to curb the spread of harmful invasive species.

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Anglers Dave Hipsag of Zimmerman and Gary Swanson of Coon Rapids were checked leaving Lake Mille Lacs earlier this year by a DNR invasive species inspector who found the men had abided by rules governing boats and aquatic invasive species.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

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Conservation officers will conduct Minnesota's first random roadside checks of boaters ever this week, part of a crackdown to slow the spread of invasive species.

The checks were to begin last month, but were delayed because two county attorneys expressed concerns over the legality of the stops.

It's unclear if those concerns have been resolved, but the Department of Natural Resources will begin the roadside checks, where county attorneys will prosecute invasive species violations, said Jim Konrad, DNR enforcement chief.

Two check stations will be conducted this week at undisclosed locations -- the first of at least 36 random roadside checks that will be done this season, said Konrad.

"Everyone understands the importance of keeping the spread of invasives from getting worse than it already is,'' said Konrad. "We will try to make this as painless as possible.''

Konrad sent notices to the state's county attorneys last week explaining why he believes a 2011 state law gives conservation officers authority to do the random checks, and why the checks differ from random DWI roadside checks previously done by the State Patrol.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that those DWI stops were unconstitutional, and they were discontinued. The DNR contends that ruling didn't preclude all check stations.

"This is more focused and less intrusive,'' Konrad said. Only motorists pulling boats or water-related equipment will be stopped, and only "in proximity" to boat landings. Also, the state law made compliance with the inspections an "express condition'' of operating or transporting boats.

Neither boaters nor media will be told ahead of time where the stops will be conducted, Konrad said.

"If we telegraph our locations, people might avoid them,'' he said. And he said he doesn't want the check stations to become "media circuses'' either.

Under the plan, motorists towing boats will be directed to pull into an inspection area staffed by conservation officers, boat inspectors and boat decontamination workers. Violators may be cited. Boats with invasive species attached will go through a high-pressure power wash.

Konrad wouldn't name the two county attorneys who have raised concerns. "We're trying to cooperate with them,'' he said.

He doesn't believe the stops infringe on boaters' constitutional rights.

"There's a level of intrusion in almost every part of our life. This will help us protect our waters.''

But Konrad said he wouldn't be surprised if someone challenges the roadside boat checks.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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