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Crow Wing County: Board hears changes to AIS plan - County seeks public feedback

The Crow Wing County Land Services Department is seeking public comment on the proposed 2018 Aquatic Invasive Species Plan.

The county board of commissioners reviewed plan changes at its committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, Nov. 21. The 2018 AIS plan can be viewed at www.crowwing.us/211/Environmental.

The state Legislature allocated $442,755 to Crow Wing County to prevent the spread of AIS in area lakes and rivers in 2018. The county also has $45,000 in rollover funds from 2017, bringing the 2018 AIS budget to $483,488. The county plans to use these funds in the following ways:

• $370,388 for boat landing/watercraft inspections: The nearly 200 public and private boat ramps have been assigned a risk classification based on use, location and infestation status. The categories range from "low" to "very high." About 16,600 hours of inspection will be conducted on 51 landings in 2018. A full explanation of the process used to identify the 51 lakes can be found in the plan.

The budget also includes funds for inspector training and basic supplies.

• $26,100 for decontamination units: The county plans to operate the AIS decontamination station at the Crosslake Joint Highway Maintenance Facility that will be open daily to the public, free of charge.

• $44,500 for education and awareness: About half of this money will be used for a collaborative project with seven surrounding counties that plans to use targeted signage, social media, news releases, radio, TV and other forms of advertising to promote AIS awareness.

The rest of the money will be given to lake associations to conduct an education outreach campaign for their members.

• $40,000 for Eurasian water milfoil treatment: The county has 10 lakes infested with milfoil that also have public accesses. As in previous years, funds will be allocated for chemical or biological treatment of milfoil in these lakes.

• $2,500 for innovation/special projects: The county plans to continue to work with area lake associations and an environmental lab to conduct zebra mussel veliger testing in 2018.

Written comments on the plan will be accepted until 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21, and can be submitted via email at landservices@crowwing.us or mailed to 322 Laurel St., Suite 15, Brainerd, MN 56401.

The county board will review the plan at a regularly scheduled meeting in early 2018 in the county board room on the third floor of the Historic Courthouse at 326 Laurel St. in Brainerd.

DNR grants

County commissioners also learned Nov. 21 that various grants previously offered by the Department of Natural Resources to prevent AIS spread and promote awareness will no longer be offered in 2018.

The DNR allocated seven grants totalling $18,646 to Crow Wing County lakes for AIS control in 2017. These grants - which supported the control of curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian water milfoil and flowering rush - will not be given in 2018.

As a result, lake associations will likely have to use more of their own association or lake improvement district funds to treat these AIS or find other grants. Crow Wing County has never used its AIS budget to treat curly-leaf pondweed or flowering rush and currently does not plan to in 2018.

The DNR allocated 2,094 hours of inspections to Crow Wing County boat ramps in 2017 but will not offer any in 2018. As stated above, however, the county has allocated about 75 percent of its AIS budget to watercraft inspections.

Board review

After reviewing the budget and changes to the plan, commissioner Paul Koering asked why the county isn't spending more money on treating AIS rather than trying to prevent the inevitable spread with so much money invested on watercraft inspections.

"All it takes is just one mistake, and then the lake is infected. ... Thinking you're going to stop it is kind of silly," Koering said. "Why can't we focus the money in and try to figure 'how do we treat the lakes to take care of that?'"

Land Services Director Gary Griffin said the county is working to do both.

"We're never going to stop it," Griffin said. "We believe in slowing the spread ... while they are trying to develop new ways to eradicate these issues."

Natural Resources Manager Jake Frie added that the county is still allocating funds to lakes that are already infested with AIS.

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