One of the biggest threats to the quality of lakes in Minnesota has been the devastating spread of aquatic invasive species, which have infected and effectively destroyed many Minnesota lakes, with Lake Koronis in Paynesville. Over that last two years, almost a half-ton of the underwater vegetation created by AIS have been removed, which is only scratching the surface.
As a result, Wright County when AIS were discovered in area lakes, launched a pilot program to combat the spread. At the July 24 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, data created to date was discussed and broken down.
Alicia Oâ€™Hare of the Wright Soil & Water said that the pilot project in Wright County, which is centered on four county lake â€“ West Sylvia, John, North Pleasant and South Pleasant â€“ has been far more demanding than originally thought.
â€śOne of the things about this program is that it is incredibly complex,â€ť Oâ€™Hare said. â€śThere is data all over the place. There is the inspection data, the (decontamination) data, the roving inspector, the law enforcement data. Trying to bring that all together has been an amazing demand on my time in addition to all the volunteer hours. I give a lot of credit to everyone that put time into processing this data. I just want to point out, this program has taken up two thirds of my (work) time. To date, the SWCD has devoted almost $20,000 â€“ and that was just through the end of June.â€ť
In addition, data shows that more than $8,000 has been expended by the sheriffâ€™s department and the water patrol has devoted almost all of its time on enforcement.
Oâ€™Hare presented to the board with a PowerPoint presentation that explained the number of inspections, wait times for board, violations/enforcement, user feedback and the amount of staff time used to enforce the boat inspection program.
From May until the middle of July, there were approximately 1,000 inspections done each month, with many of those coming on the high-traffic weekends of Memorial Day and the 4th of July. Part of the project has been to ask boaters a series of questions to gather background data to determine where boaters go, the frequency of lake access and whether or not they do their own pre-emptive inspection procedures.
Chief Deputy Todd Hoffman said that, from June 23 to July 23 the sheriffâ€™s office did 126 AIS complaints, which was more than any other police call category, including domestic disputes, theft and shoplifting complaints â€“ for just four county lakes. The average time spent on AIS complaints was 40 minutes, stressing that education to violations will be the key for success to inform the public.
A handful of residents spoke out that the county needs to continue to create data for its pilot project to develop a database not just for a small sampling of Wright County lakes, but lakes throughout the state that are being threatened.
Oâ€™Hare said that the final 2018 data will be presented to the board, but it will likely be part of the coming 2019 budget discussions. Commissioner Mike Potter said that, while the program may be an inconvenience to some boaters, the impetus for the project is to protect Wright County Lakes so there isnâ€™t a disaster close to home.
â€śI had quite a few people ask me early on why weâ€™re doing this and I showed them pictures of Lake Koronis and told them that we donâ€™t want this,â€ť Potter said. â€śWe have no allusions that weâ€™re going to stop this, but if we can get people educated and try to slow down this a little and hopefully technology catches up. Thatâ€™s the purpose of this. Itâ€™s a pilot program. Most people were okay with that. They understood why weâ€™re doing it. We do not want Lake Koronis here. Period. Itâ€™s a shame what happened on that lake.â€ť
In other items on the genda, the board:
Was informed that the state demographerâ€™s number presented to the board in June are now official population numbers for cities and townships in the county. The countyâ€™s population is set at 134,365 and will be used as the countyâ€™s official population figure when state and federal funding questions are based on population.
Approved a bid from MSB Excavating & Tiling Inc. for tree removal on County Ditch 22, which winds through the Montrose/Waverly area in the amount of $60,241. The cost for the project will be charged back to the benefitted landowners on the ditch line. Three bids were received ranging from the winning bid to a bid of $88,800.
Adopted revised North Fork Crow One Watershed One Plan documents. For the last two years, the county has worked to bring the Crow River Watershed Plan in uniformity with state law that has required all watershed plans to have the same basic framework. The board authorized signatures on the revised plan to be submitted to the state.
Received an update on the process of conducting a space study on the current county courthouse footprint â€“ ranging from doing nothing to remodeling the existing facility to replace open space from the old jail and courts area to constructing a new facility away from the current location in downtown Buffalo to the campus where the current jail sits and the new courts building will be constructed. It was decided to include funding for the space study and breaking down the options into the 2019 budget. The vote carried 4-1 with Commissioner Charlie Borrell voting against spending too much on speculative ventures without weighing the pros and cons of each option beforehand.
Referred to the July 25 personnel committee discussion of a request to temporarily extend part-time staffing hours for social services. In a separate item, referred a request to hire a highway maintenance worker to the same committee meeting.
Approved a claim from the firm of Madden, Galenter & Hansen in the amount of $6,375 for consulting work done on behalf of the county in June.
Scheduled a committee of the whole meeting for 10:30 a.m. following the Aug. 7 board meeting to hear a presentation of a the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report using the OpenGov software program followed by board training on the system at 1 p.m. the same day.
Approved revising an employment contract that will change the county coordinator position to a county administrator, adding an assistant administrator position into the mix. The plan to change over from county coordinator to administrator will start Jan. 1, 2019. Final review of the changes will come back to the committee of the whole in October.
Set another committee of the whole meeting for 11 a.m. following the Aug. 14 board meeting to discuss the countyâ€™s exit audit exit meeting with CliftonLarsonAllen.