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The Healthy Lakes Partnership Grant Program helps lakeshore property owners and lake associations keep area waters pristine. A study indicated a direct correlation between property values and water quality. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)

Grants available to improve area lakes

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Lake Emma Township is partnering with the Coalition of Lake Associations to promote healthy lakes via a pioneer Healthy Lakes Partnership Grant Program.

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The program was inspired, in part, by the Blueberry Township Conservation Fund that was initiated to battle aquatic invasive species (AIS) on Blueberry Lake and Twin Lakes in Wadena County, COLA president Dan Kittilson explained.

But the Hubbard County initiative is proactive, not reactive, Kittilson explained. "It's about protecting the long-term health of our lakes and the economic viability of the Park Rapids area and, specifically, Lake Emma Township."

When Hubbard County COLA was seeking support for a DNR watercraft inspection grant in 2008, members approached the Lake Emma Township board about a grant project.

The idea was warmly received, and for good reason. The township has the largest number of major lakes in the county. A majority of its real estate tax revenue is from lakeshore property. And a study has confirmed lakeshore property values relate directly to water quality.

But development brings challenges - threat of invasive species, water quality degradation, loss of natural shoreline and storm water run-off.

The township board encouraged COLA and Lake Emma residents to attend the annual meeting in March last year, where the Healthy Lakes Partnership plan was unveiled, meeting strong support.

In January, the supervisors finalized the proposal and officially adopted the Lake Emma Township Healthy Lakes Partnership Grant Program for 2010.

The township is offering lake associations two-to-one grant funding ($1 township funds with a 50-cent match) for lake and stream protection or lakeshore restoration projects that will take place in 2010.

Matches can be comprised of volunteer labor, in-kind services, donated materials and/or cash.

Lake associations are invited to seek interested property owners for shoreland habitat improvement, shoreland restoration, inventorying and assessment projects, AIS prevention and outreach projects. "It's all about people protecting lakes," Kittilson said.

He emphasized this does not simply benefit lakeshore property owners but impacts visitors using the lakes.

The long-term health of lakes and their economic viability are based on interconnected issues, shoreline habitat and AIS, he said.

Shoreline habitat includes aquatic vegetation - bulrushes and cattails, for example - and upland vegetation adjacent to lakes and streams.

These buffers filter run-off and prevent or reduce nutrients, fertilizer and pesticides from entering lakes.

When humans disturb the natural filtering system by clearing vegetation to the water's edge, the buffering effect is diminished.

"Vegetation removal opens the door for aquatic invasive species to take over," Kittilson said. "Habitat is the cornerstone for a healthy lake."

He's hoping the initiative will serve as a benchmark, with other townships in the county joining the ranks.

Applications for the grants must be submitted to the advisory board by March 1. Board members Bob Berdahl, Ken Grob, Chris Rausch and Kittilson and Doug Kingsley and Shane Foley of the Soil and Water Conservation District will make recommendations to the township board.

Grants awarded will be announced after April 6. The funds must be spent in the year requested.

Eligible projects include, but are not limited to, restoration of critical shoreline habitat, buffer strips, rain gardens, shoreline erosion correction, redirection of storm water run-off, AIS prevention, vegetation mapping and education strategies in cooperation with shoreline restoration projects.

Eligible projects can be used as a local match for Clean Water Legacy Amendment grants.

Ineligible projects include water quality monitoring, rip rap, weed harvesting, fish stocking, septic upgrades and land/conservation easements.

Projects will be evaluated based on a project work plan, approval from a regulatory agency, coordination with local water plan task force, evidence of community support, long term maintenance (where applicable) and benefit to the township.

At the conclusion of the project, a final summary report should be submitted to the township board, along with bills/receipts for payment.

Grant application information is available at www.lakeemmatwp.com or by contacting Nancy Bogaard, township clerk, at 17358 County 40, Park Rapids, MN 56470; e-mail at nbogaard@hughes.com or call 732-5617.

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