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Proposed culvert stirs concerns of pondweed spread

Representatives from the Crow Wing chain of lakes convened Saturday to discuss the feared proliferation of curly-leaf pondweed if a culvert and bridge replacement project moves forward.

Silting in the present culvert precludes boats from moving between the two basins of the lake. "It's passable, but dangerous," Martin Merk said of the culvert. "It's an accident waiting to happen."

By meeting's end, a consensus was reached to form a coalition among the four Crow Wing lake associations and draft a plan of action to combat aquatic invasive species, CLP, specifically.

But not all fears were quelled.

Julie Kingsley, who spearheaded the meeting, had expressed concern regarding the bridge or culvert in an article in the Coalition of Lake Associations newsletter.

"If the bridge/culvert replacement were to go ahead, the very real threat of spreading curly-leaf pondweed to the lower basin of 11th Crow Wing Lake, the 10 other lakes in the Crow Wing Lake chain and the Crow Wing River system which all lead to the Mississippi River may become a reality," she warned.

"As a resident on 8th Crow Wing, I want to see a plan," Kingsley told members of the 10th and 11th Crow Wing coalition Saturday. "Not just ideas."

"And it needs to be sustainable," county commissioner and a Crow Wing lake resident Don Carlson added.

The construction of a bridge will not increase the risk of curly-leaf pondweed's proliferation, Doug Kingsley of DNR Fisheries told lake residents. "Boat traffic will spread curly-leaf.

"You won't eradicate it with chemicals or by pulling," Doug Kingsley said. "But you can't let it go.

"You have to consider the advantage of increased boat traffic against the possible risk of spreading curly-leaf pondweed," he cautioned.

Curly-leaf pondweed, originally discovered on the lake in 2006, has been found in "disturbed areas" of the lake, where native vegetation has been removed.

Kim Bowen, 10th and 11th Crow Wing Lake Association president and a resort owner, said hand pulling, raking and a granulated chemical (Hydrothol 191) have been used in the lake.

"I wish you luck," Kingsley said. "But I'm skeptical of it being eradicated." He does not encourage chemical control, suggesting the "hand remedy."

Chad Braun, whose family owns Dixie Point in the upper basin, said raking appears to make it worse. "It seems to be proliferating this year."

COLA president Dan Kittilson suggested creating a vegetation database for the lake using waypoints via GPS mapping. He encouraged involvement from the entire chain. "It's coming," he warned. "Especially if you open the bridge. And the Lower Crow Wings are more susceptible."

He noted the "biggest threat (for Little Sand Lake) is the public access on Big Sand. We have to work together as a chain."

"If you enlarge the culvert, 8th (Crow Wing Lake) is doomed," Judy Novak said. "Once it's there, you can't eradicate it."

Joel Abraham, a resident on 10th Crow Wing, reminded his audience of the history of the bridge/fill, which began a century ago. In 1956, with no funding available to replace the original timber bridge, the county decided to place earthen fill across the lake. A culvert was constructed to allow boat access from the upper to lower part of the lake.

The culvert was reset in 1964 because of settlement. In 1990, citizens began requesting a larger structure. The state concurred; but no funding was available. In 2000, Minnesota Department of Transportation agreed to fund 50 percent of the cost of a bridge.

"This lake has been adversely affected by the state and the county," Abraham said. "The plant life has changed dramatically, but it's a forgiving lake," he said of 20-foot Secchi disc clarity readings.

"This is an environmental travesty of major proportions," 11th Crow Wing Lake resident Katie Magozzi said. "The Shingobee River ran muddy for 15 years after the roadway was built."

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, contacted after the meeting, said the project at this point is not a high priority in the Legislature because of the economy. He said a 12-foot high culvert would be "adequate," at a cost of approximately $300,000, and could be addressed in 2011.

But he is in favor of a bridge, at a cost of an estimated $1.2 to $1.6 million. The project is currently tentatively slated for 2016, "but it could be moved up on the calendar."

"What do you need to be more secure about the bridge replacement?" Bowen asked lake residents Saturday. She'd compiled a "plan of action" prior to the meeting calling for the creation of a CLP fund by the 10th and 11th Crow Wing Lake Association, establishing a corps of volunteers and monitoring efforts to control CLP.

"It's a whole lake issue," Julie Kingsley said. "Not 10 people."

"The purpose is to establish cooperation, to look at the Lower Crow Wings as allies," Magozzi said. "We need to establish a plan of action this winter, for execution next spring... The bridge was an environmental holocaust."

She advocated an AIS task force, involving the entire chain, "with a war chest."

Sunday, e-mails from Bowen were being sent to the 17 arriving for the meeting, seeking volunteers and setting up meeting dates.