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Lake associations sue DNR -- say it is not doing enough to keep out zebra mussels

A lawsuit has been filed against the Commissioner of the DNR by representatives of three western Twin Cities lake associations and concerned citizens who say the commissioner has not followed state statutes that require the agency to establish a statewide program to prevent and curb the spread of invasive species.

The lake associations representing Lake Bavaria, Christmas Lake and Lotus Lake allege DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr has failed in his statutory requirement to establish a program to prevent the introduction of zebra mussels in to the three Carver County lakes.

According to KDLM radio, the suit also alleges that the commissioner's permission for launching uninspected watercraft at the three lakes is likely to cause their pollution, impairment, or destruction.

The City of Chanhassen is also being sued in the same filing. The suit seeks to allow installation of an electronic gate at the public access of Lotus Lake to protect the lake from uninspected watercraft. An April 4th court date is scheduled in Carver County.

In response to news of the lawsuit, Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (Vice President Terry Kalil released the following statement today:

It's a sad day for all Minnesotans when ordinary citizens have to spend their own money and time to pursue legal action against the State of Minnesota and the Department of Natural Resources for not protecting public waters from the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr has the obligation under state statute to develop and implement an effective statewide AIS program and has failed to do so, according to the lawsuit. Instead, we have a patchwork effort headed by local COLAs (Coalition of Lake Associations) and Lake Association volunteers on a county-by-county basis.

The only effective approach to stopping the spread of Zebra Mussels must be implemented at the state level. The DNR has the final authority to mandate inspections, allocate a portion of their $900 million budget to AIS efforts, hire the personnel, and educate the public while enforcing the law. What we've seen to date is that while the number of infested waters increases, the DNR deployed only three decontamination units for the whole state in 2011. In one of the two cases where an individual was prosecuted for transporting zebra mussels into an Otter Tail County lake, the best the DNR could do was get a $1,000 fine. What is the value of a lake? To the MN DNR with its paltry $7.5 million AIS allocation, that's about $750/lake; clearly not enough to protect one of the key economic drivers in our state.

We expect that the DNR will try to blame the Legislature for not giving them more money for programs, when in fact, it's not more money that's needed right now. It's better policy, better strategy, and better allocation of resources.

We wish the lake associations and the individuals who are plaintiffs in this action a positive outcome. We also hope that the end result is that the DNR makes the changes necessary to get a statewide AIS plan developed and implemented right now before the list of infested waters gets any longer. For years the DNR has told us they're "ramping up" on zebra mussels. The time to stop ramping up was years ago. The time to act is right now.