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Lake Shore: Opponents to stocking muskies in Gull Lake address council

People opposed to the Department of Natural Resources' plan to stock muskie in Gull Lake filled Lake Shore City Hall on Monday, Sept. 26, asking the city council to vote again on whether to support the controversial issue.

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This undated file photo from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows muskie young being stocked into a state lake.

People opposed to the Department of Natural Resources' plan to stock muskie in Gull Lake filled Lake Shore City Hall on Monday, Sept. 26, asking the city council to vote again on whether to support the controversial issue.

In June, after hearing a presentation from Mark Bacigalupi, Brainerd Fisheries area supervisor with the DNR, and several others in the area who support the DNR's plan to stock muskie in Gull Lake, the Lake Shore council voted 3-2 to support the plan.

Mayor John Poston and council members Earl North and Krista Knudsen voted to support the proposal. Council member John Terwilliger said he was uncomfortable voting for or against the resolution the DNR requested because he had no idea how citizens of Lake Shore felt about the issue. Council member Doug Miller agreed, saying he had heard from a few people who opposed the proposal.

A month later, people both opposed to and in support of the muskie stocking plan voiced their opinions to the council. And Monday, about 40 people filled city hall, asking the council to reconsider and vote again on the issue.

One person - Jim Kath - spoke in support of the plan, saying false information continues to be shared and defamatory remarks are being about the DNR and others that hurt people's integrity.

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Though the council has heard every side of the issue more than once via council meetings, letters and phone calls, it likely will tackle the subject again in October. Those at Monday's meeting - who spoke during the open forum portion of the meeting - said they would ask to be on the agenda Oct. 24 to formally ask the council to reconsider its June vote.

Because the issue wasn't part of the agenda Monday, the council couldn't take any action. Council members didn't specifically say they would vote again on the topic in October; but mayor John Poston told the crowd it was possible.

Knudsen told those at city hall that she wished they had been at the June meeting to state their views. She even asked at that meeting if there were any opponents to the plan and if so, where were they?

Those in the crowd Monday said they didn't know a DNR presentation on the muskie plan was on the June agenda, and they didn't attend the July council meeting when the topic came up again because that was the same night as the annual Gull Chain of Lakes Association Gala.

Knudsen and other council members said it wasn't their fault the audience didn't know the topic was on the agenda in June, or that someone put the issue on the agenda the same night as the gala.

Knudsen said she didn't know if the council decision would be the same or different if they had heard from opponents in June, and she wasn't sure if a changed vote would make a difference now.

In late July, the DNR decided to begin stocking muskies in certain lakes, including the Gull chain. While stocking was to begin in October, plans are on hold after an Environmental Assessment Worksheet was sought.

City administrator Teri Hastings read two letters Monday from people who opposed the muskie stocking plan. Three more people read letters to the council at Monday's meeting, and several others spoke in opposition to the plan. Only Kath spoke in support of it.

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North said his understanding is that only legislative action can stop the DNR plan to stock muskie in Gull and other lakes.

"We're not that legislative body," he said. "Our recommendation was to continue the working relationship that we have with the DNR."

He also said Gull Lake is more than just a recreational lake; it belongs to everyone in the state. A lot of groups influence what happens on the chain, not just muskie groups, he said.

"What we do here is not going to change what the DNR and state units of government are going to do," he said.

Uldis Birznieks, Gull Chain of Lakes Association chair, told the council: "I believe the vote of your council was key and had significant impact for the DNR to decide to stock Gull."

Council members did take issue with a letter writer who claimed council members voted in support of the muskie stocking plan because it would benefit their businesses. Knudsen and Poston own restaurants in Lake Shore.

"There's been question about the integrity of members of this council. I'm hear to tell you personally - in my own personal and professional relationship with people at this table - your assumptions are incorrect," North said. "We had no agenda. We had two complete and thorough hearings on this subject."

Poston said he was speaking for both Knudsen and himself, saying he never voted for anything in his or his business' best interest. Both have removed themselves from votes that would have been a conflict of interest, he said.

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"That's really offensive when you say we did it for a business building opportunity," Poston said.

Knudsen added: "Honestly, that never once came into my mind. I'm appalled at that accusation."

"I apologize," said Sheila Johnston, whose letter contained those claims.

Tom Spicola, another in the audience, said it showed the level of frustration, anger, angst and confusion over the topic.

"This is a back and forth that has no resolution actually," North said. "I believe the water belongs to everybody who lives in the state. You're putting a bad name on a small group of people who have a sport fish they like to fish - I don't think that's fair."

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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