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County may restrict channels to stop zebras

Douglas County's war against zebra mussels may soon escalate.

At Tuesday's regular board meeting, commissioners discussed the option of restricting watercraft traffic on channels between lakes Darling and Cowdry and lakes Geneva and Victoria.

Although there was no board action taken, commissioners gave Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush the go-ahead to pursue the necessary steps to start the process.

Rush, along with Nathan Olson, an invasive species specialist with the Department of Natural Resources out of Fergus Falls, presented information to the commissioners about zebra mussels and the growing concern for Douglas County lakes.

Zebra mussels were first found in Lake L'Homme Dieu last summer and have since been found in Lakes Carlos and Geneva.

Olson believes the aquatic invasive species (AIS) has been in the lakes area between one to two years. The mussels can be moved up and down stream.

Education about zebra mussles and other AIS will continue as the summer recreation season nears, but Rush and Olson believe that more needs to be done.

Olson explained to commissioners that enforcement will be stepped up in the Alexandria lakes area and that more inspections will be done at lake accesses to help keep the spread of zebra mussels to a minimum.

After his presentation, Olson asked the commissioners about boat channel restrictions, "Do you want to do this in Douglas County?"

He said that although restricting traffic on the two channels is an option, it is not guaranteed, nor is it permanent.

"It's not the end all, be all solution," Olson said.

Rush explained to the commissioners that a state statute gives the county board the authority to close the channels to watercraft and that the county can do zoning on lakes.

Board Chair Paul Anderson first asked about the stepped-up enforcement and who was going to pay for it. He said the county wouldn't put any more deputies on the water because of the cost.

Olson said the DNR wasn't asking the county for any additional staff and that it has hired summer interns to help with the boat inspections.

Olson also explained to the board that the DNR isn't in favor of putting boulders in the channels to block access, but rather it is looking at more buoys and signage.

The restriction, he added, would be for motorized traffic, but not likely for canoes, kayaks or people tubing.

Even though there is an infestation of zebra mussels in a couple of Douglas County lakes, Olson reassured the board that people will still be able to fish, swim and boat on these lakes.

Anderson, who wasn't necessarily against the closing of the channels, told Olson he would like to see this as a DNR action rather than a county ordinance.

Commissioner Dan Olson asked Rush and Olson if zebra mussels have a natural predator, which could maybe help decrease the population.

Both said no. Rush said the zebra mussel infestation will pale in comparison to army tent worms, which can be controlled.

He told the commissioners the county has to be proactive against this issue.

Commissioner Bev Bales agreed, saying, "I think we need to be on top of this."

Bonnie Huettl of Alexandria, a concerned citizen and member of the Douglas County Lakes Association who was at Tuesday's meeting, is in favor of restricting the channels.

"I don't see restricting the channels as bad. It's a good idea," she told the commissioners. "I would like to see you move forward on this."

After a little more discussion, Rush asked the board for direction on what he should do and the board, by consensus, gave him the go-ahead to start the process, which will include public hearings and information meetings.