Anderson: Days of unfettered boat access may be gone

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2012 - 11:11 PM
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DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr (left)

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune file

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DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr discusses a plan by a coalition of west-metro lake associations to significantly expand boat-inspection rules.

Q The proposal to require boat inspections across a swath of the west metro is controversial among anglers and other boaters, who believe their access to lakes would be too restricted.

A There are approximately 3,000 lake accesses in the state, only about half of which the DNR has authority over. On accesses we control, inspections, gates and other, similar requirements by local authorities can only be done with our permission. Conversely, on the other accesses, we have no authority.

Q The coalition plan presented to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District is far reaching, requesting that certain private accesses be shut down and gates be placed on certain public accesses, through which entry could be gained only after inspection.

A We have said, and the law allows, that local watershed districts and other governments can develop these types of plans. But we will only review them after they've been approved by the watershed district or other government body. We would have to agree to any restrictions that affect the public accesses we control.

Q Explain how the gate on the Christmas Lake access is allowed.

A That access dates to the 1980s and has been controversial among lakeshore owners from the start, many of whom opposed it. It is owned by the city of Shorewood. But because it was built in part with federal dollars, there are restrictions the DNR placed on the access requiring it to be open 14 hours a day. No one decades ago imagined the AIS [aquatic invasive species] issues we're facing today that brought about that gate and the private inspectors stationed there, which the lakeshore owners and city support.

Q If broader, more stringent boat inspection protocols were cast across the west metro, what would stop other groups from forming coalitions elsewhere in the state or requiring perhaps even more stringent inspections, creating a checkerboard of launching rules?

A Our concern is that the more complex this effort becomes by local units of government, the more restricted public access will be to public waters. We want to develop standards that local units can use to provide consistency and reduce confusion.

Q Should Minnesota boaters continue to have free and unfettered access to state lakes?

A It's clear by our efforts at the DNR in years leading up to this, and particularly this summer, that laws requiring transport of invasive species are in place and must be followed. So free and unfettered might already be gone. I would say, however, that any new inspections or other restrictions must be reasonable and not unduly burdensome.

Q The DNR commissioned a study by an independent firm to develop a broad range of boat inspection protocols for possible implementation statewide. The plan was presented by your staff to legislators earlier this year. But most of the plans were dismissed outright as too expensive. In fact, legislators gave the DNR considerably less than it asked for to fight AIS.

A The study you reference showed the type of plan being proposed in the west metro would be prohibitively expensive to implement statewide, in the $50 million to $100 million or more range. The DNR has to rely on public funding, and our response to AIS and similar problems is measured by funds available. The Legislature has provided $8 million a year. I don't anticipate anytime soon there will be $50 million for us to work with.

Q It's interesting that "100 percent inbound watercraft inspection'' is proposed by the west-metro group, when the biggest threat of spreading zebra mussels might be from lakeshore owners on infested lakes transporting their boats elsewhere.

A There are several possible vectors for spreading zebra mussels. And it only takes one to slip through to continue the spread.

Q Do you think zebra mussels can be contained?

A Our DNR program addressing the spread of AIS is based on public education and personal responsibility. It's a good plan and it's what we can afford. Will it stop the spread of zebra mussels? Absolutely not, especially if people don't take it seriously. It should slow the spread, however, while we look at control methodologies. We support the work in this area just beginning by Dr. Peter Sorensen at the U and will work closely with him.

Q Sorensen has said he doesn't yet know much about the long-term effects of zebra mussels on a lake's biomass, whether fish populations are widely affected, or whether there's a plateauing of infestation and the effects are perhaps less dramatic han feared.

A Very often invasives have their own limiters. These things behave differently in different types of water. We look to the east for clues, to Lake Erie, for instance. But we can't say for certain how our lakes and fish will react. An approach that attempts to slow their spread and ultimately, hopefully, stops them is best because we don't know whether zebra mussels will, in the end, become just another clam in Minnesota waters -- or the demise of the food chain altogether.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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