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Sheriff's office investigates death of man found on lake

Cass County Board: More than 21,000 AIS inspections conducted in 2017

WALKER—Cass had 33 inspectors on 35 lakes at 40 public accesses checking boats for aquatic invasive species during the 2017 boating season, Cass AIS Program Director Rima Smith-Keprios told the Cass County Board Tuesday.

In addition, Lake Shore Police Department conducted about 3,000 inspections and Cass County sheriff's deputies did 200.

The total 21,569 inspections found 211 boats arriving at accesses with the drain plug in place rather than removed or 1.17 percent of boaters. That is up slightly from the .91 percent found in 2016, but still down from the 2.4 percent in 2015.

Aitkin County made available their mobile decontamination unit for Cass to use at Northern Lights Event Center during the muskie fishing tournament on Leech Lake. The county checked boats coming for the walleye tournament and Leech Lake Regatta, but did not have an on-site decontamination unit for those events.

Cass' enhanced training for the county boat inspectors has been very helpful for minimizing conflict between inspectors and boaters, Smith-Keprios said. Other counties have asked for information about Cass' training program, she added.

The county spent $446,326.17 on AIS prevention in 2017 or 5 percent less than budgeted. Of that, 63.5 percent went for inspections, 14.7 percent for administration, 11.97 percent for partnerships with lake association, 14.25 percent for law enforcement inspections, 4 percent for education and information and 1.67 percent for supplies and portable bathrooms.

Cass has budgeted $505 for the 2018 AIS prevention program.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners approved a letter of support in behalf of Health, Human and Veterans Services for Good Samaritan Society's plan to close five beds in its nursing home at Pine River.

Director Karan Prososki told the board the residence has not been full, partially due to the shift to try to keep people in their own homes with home health services and partially due to staff shortfalls. The state still requires the home to make payments to the state, whether or not beds are filled, she said.

She estimated closing the five beds will save the residence $14,000 a year.

Assessor Mark Peterson informed the board BNSF Railway has reached an agreement in its court appeal of the value the state set for its rail line property in the state, which reduces that value from the state-set value.

This settlement covers the value the state set in 2017 for calculating taxes payable in 2018, so it will not involve any refunds, but will mean some taxation value previously charged against BNSF will now be spread among the rest of the county's tax base, Peterson explained.

BNSF has an east-west line running across the northern portion of Cass going through the cities of Cass Lake and Bena and an east-west line running across southern Cass through the city of Pillager. Its 2016 land value for these two lines was $11,667,500, he said. The state had raised that value in 2017 to $17,278,300.

The November court settlement dropped the 2017 value by $3,863,300 to $13,415,000. Statewide, the court settlement set the value of BNSF's land at $884,500,000.

Cass commissioners approved reclassifying land owned by the Quarterdeck (Beach Club LLC) in Fairview Township and by Debra Fairbanks in Crooked Lake Township. The planning commission voted Dec. 11 to recommend approving both changes.

The board approved a cooperative project with Minnesota DNR to restore the outlet of Esterday Lake (also referred to at Pulvers Lake) in Byron Township to normalize water flow and the lake level.

The goal will be to restore conditions to bring back to encourage wild rice growth and to improve conditions for a trail that runs over the lake outlet area.

The land department will do a prescribed burn on 105 acres in McKinley Township for prairie chicken habitat and another, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, on 3,096 acres in the Boy River and Boy Bay area of Leech Lake to enhance wildlife habitat in a marsh area. Both will be done in the spring of 2018.

Minnesota DNR informed the county by letter of its intent to acquire a conservation easement on land owned by James and Ann McGill, which lies just north of Lower Ten Mile Lake Road and just west of Ten Mile Lake. Two home sites on the property would be exempt from the easement.

The board approved continuing its contract with Terry Freeman to serve as county surveyor in 2018. The hourly rate will increase from $80 to $85, with the annual total not to exceed $36,000.