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Those who violate invasives guides will be cited, Kandiyohi Co., Minn., announces

WILLMAR -- When it comes to public awareness about aquatic invasive species, the era of education is over.

This will be the year of citations.

State and local officials are taking a new tactic this summer when it comes to addressing people who violate laws aimed at preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

The education period is over, said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dennis Peterson, who has led the county's fight to take preventive actions to protect lakes. "There will be no more warning tickets."

For the last couple years, Peterson has served on a statewide Department of Natural Resources committee that's discussed these issues and proposed legislative action, including increasing fines for violators.

During an update Tuesday to the County Board, Peterson said he attended a meeting last weekend when the DNR officials said the grace period of education and warning tickets is over and that conservation officers have been instructed to issue tickets and fines this year.

Peterson said he hoped local sheriff's deputies would take the same action.

Last year Kandiyohi County "gave out a lot of warnings" but only seven or eight citations, he said.

While that was appropriate then, he said the action needs to be increased to get the message across and stop aquatic invasive species from spreading.

Violators could be fined up to $1,000, said Peterson, adding that "still wasn't enough."

Peterson said an individual who was convicted last year for putting a dock contaminated with zebra mussels into a clean lake had to pay a fine of $500 and $500 in court fees. "But he caused millions of dollars in damage so he got by pretty cheap," he said.

He said the DNR purchased several decontamination units and has hired 146 new inspectors this year that will be monitoring for aquatic invasive species, but another 29 officers are needed.

Sheriff Dan Hartog said the county has funding for one part-time deputy that will be dedicated to the effort.

"We will be writing a lot more tickets this year," Hartog said. "We did a lot of education last year. This year we'll step it up and will issue more citations."

Peterson said people are starting to get educated about the consequences of these species being introduced to lakes, but said there are some "stupid and ornery" people who still refuse to obey simple rules like draining water from boats when they leave a lake.

Trading in warnings for tickets could make a difference. "We've got to hit this thing hard on the head," he said.

Meanwhile, Peterson said efforts are under way to encourage the Legislature to increase the fish and game licenses to bring additional funds for those programs. Nearly every game and fish organization supports increases in fees, which haven't been raised since 2001.

He said there's concern there are "enough tea party conservatives in the Legislature" that oppose any kind of fee increase that it won't get approved.

In other action:

- Following a lengthy hearing, the commissioners delayed taking action on a petition for a drainage ditch outlet into County Ditch 52 from land in Meeker County. Attorneys and residents from both sides presented testimony on the issue and an engineer's report was reviewed. The commissioners voted 1-3 to request another independent engineer's report, on the condition the county would not be required to pay for the study. Commissioner Harlan Madsen has land in the County Ditch 52 system and recused himself from the discussion and did not vote on the motion.

- The commissioners heard a report on the economic strength of the county from Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. Of the 576 "micropolitan" communities in the U.S., Renquist said Kandiyohi County ranks 70th in economic strength, based on criteria such as workers' earnings.