Wright board plans for battle with zebra mussels

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

 

One of Minnesota’s greatest resources is its 10,000 lakes.

For outdoor enthusiasts, whether they be on lakes to swim, ski or fish, Minnesota is renowned for not only its abundance of lakes, but the quality of the water in the lakes. However, that pristine quality of Minnesota water is in jeopardy from one a small, but dangerous invasive species – the zebra mussel.

At the meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners heard from Joe Jacobs of the Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District to discuss the growing epidemic of the spread of zebra mussels and the damage they can do to lakes once they get a stronghold.

“We haven’t had any infestations in Wright County yet, but there are serious concerns because zebra mussels spread fast once they get into a lake and take over,” Jacobs said. “We’ve already seen what has happened in Lake Minnetonka, Prior Lake and several lakes in the Brainerd area. The infestation of zebra mussels has been growing and, once they get into a lake, they multiply and spread very quickly.”

The state has become so concerned about the problem that, in the last legislative session, millions of dollars in funding was approved to combat the zebra mussel infestation issue. Wright County was awarded $108,000 in funding for 2014 and $240,000 in 2015 to address the issues. Counties have been left to their own devices how to utilize the money, but the primary elements in the program are a combination of education, boat inspections, treatment and having feet on the ground to take the fight to the zebra mussel.

The issue is a concern for Wright County because water is a resource in the county. There are 59 public boat landings in the county and that is how most lakes get infested — when a boat carrying zebra mussels gets put into the water and the mussels detach from the boat and start the process of multiplying and taking over a lake. The 19 Wright County lake associations have already joined in the fight. The question now is how will the money be spent? The price of success or failure has big implications.

“It has changed how we look at water quality,” Jacobs said. “If affects everyone from the recreational use of lakes to property values around lakes. There is a lot at stake and there needs to be a strong effort made to preserve our lakes.”

The board approved having the Soil and Water Conservation District assemble a list of parties most directly involved to create a committee/task force to assess the issues and determine how best to utilize the $350,000 the county will receive over the next 18 months to wage war on zebra mussels. The matter will be returned to the board later this summer to discuss the plan of attack.

In other items on the agenda, the board:

AWARDED the bid for the construction of a salt storage shed at the highway department’s Maple Lake truck maintenance station to Greystone Construction out of Shakopee in the amount of $109,720.

ANNOUNCED three meeting cancellations well in advance of them becoming issues. There are five Tuesdays in two remaining months of 2014 (September and December), which require one of those meetings to be canceled. The board selected the Sept. 2 meeting because if comes on the Tuesday after Labor Day and the Dec. 9 meeting, which coincides with the Association of Minnesota Counties annual meeting. The board also decided to cancel the Nov. 11 board meeting because it falls on Veteran’s Day this year and the county courthouse will be closed.

AUTHORIZED signatures on an emergency fund grant program from the Department of Public Safety for use in the county attorney’s victim/witness program. No county matching funds were required for the grant.

REFERRED to the personnel committee a highway department request to fill a highway maintenance position that has remained vacant under the county’s hiring policy.

APPROVED signatures on a revised contract with the Minnesota Department of Corrections concerning the county housing work release violators. The original contract had the wrong start and finish dates (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2104) and were changed to reflect the contract runs from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

SET a capital improvement finance committee for 10:30 a.m. following the Aug. 5 board meeting to discuss the county’s capital improvement plan and what projects will receive priority for potential funding from the capital improvement account of turned back budget money to the county.

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