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Crow Wing County Board: Plan to curb AIS approved

The Crow Wing County Board approved a plan Tuesday, Feb. 10, to combat aquatic invasive species (AIS) in 2015 using state funds designated last legislative session.

The Crow Wing County Board approved a plan Tuesday, Feb. 10, to combat aquatic invasive species (AIS) in 2015 using state funds designated last legislative session.

Of the $10 million state legislators set aside to fund AIS prevention and decontamination efforts, Crow Wing County received $450,473. Coupled with funding carried over from 2014 and an estimated $5,000 in local government grants from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the total budget for the program is $489,473.

The plan prepared by Mitch Brinks, water protection specialist with the land services department, outlines spending priorities identified with input from area lake associations.

The largest portion of funds - $295,000 - will go toward watercraft inspections at boat accesses, long the focus of AIS prevention both in the county and statewide. The costs associated with inspections include training, equipment and the hourly wages of DNR-trained inspectors.

Nineteen new lakes are included in the access inspection plan, including Round, Whipple and Mille Lacs, and inspection hours on 20 other lakes plus the Whitefish Chain are set to increase by more than 50 percent to 10,000 hours.

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As part of the plan, Brinks identified all public and private landings within the county (not including canoe or carry-in accesses) and ranked them based upon AIS risk level. To determine a risk level, he analyzed overall usage, proximity to AIS-infested waters and infestation status of the lake into which the access allows boat traffic. Those accesses with high to very high risk levels, which includes 50 of 183 throughout the county, will receive the most attention from county-provided inspectors.

For those designated as moderate risk, generally sporadically used public accesses, the county will rely on volunteer inspectors and continued AIS education and awareness efforts. Low risk accesses - little used public or private landings - will receive attention through education efforts coupled with trainings for private landing operators.

The plan calls for allocating $100,000 for zebra mussels decontamination, which will include manning up to five strategically located decontamination stations with inspectors.

The process takes five to 10 minutes and includes spraying high-temperature water, killing zebra mussels on contact. There is no cost to boaters to use the stations.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said his preference would be for the county to invest in one station at a permanent location to start.

"I think the best way we can get documentable results is to have a permanent station that is open 24/7, and we see whether or not people will come to use it," Thiede said.

Brinks said they could take a look at the idea. If they were to select one area for a permanent station, he said, it would be Crosslake because of the proximity to the Whitefish Chain.

The remaining funds will be designated to education/awareness, milfoil treatment and special projects.

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In addition to providing funding to lake associations to increase public awareness, the county plans to increase signage at county-owned and private accesses and to ramp up targeting advertising efforts to educate out-of-town visitors. A total of $45,000 has been designated for these efforts, nearly half of which will cover the costs of signs.

Although the focus in AIS tends to be on zebra mussels, Brinks noted at a December committee of the whole meeting treating Eurasian milfoil might be more attainable given available technologies. Eight lakes in the county are eligible for the treatment, which is estimated to cost $40,000. Those lakes are Bay, Clearwater, Emily, Kimble, Lower Mission, Upper Mission, Ossawinnamakee and Ruth.

The last element of the county's plan focuses on innovations in AIS response. This July, the county plans to test approximately 50 lakes currently identified as not infested with zebra mussels for the presence of veligers, which are the microscopic offspring of the mussels. The results of these samples would identify lakes facing impending infestation and inform the process for designating risk levels of accesses.

Special projects could also include the development of rapid response techniques for new infestations.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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