Sen. Olson proposes 'Star Lake' concept

Minnesota lakeshore owners who strive to protect the quality of their lakes could earn "Star Lake" status under a bill proposed by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

Minnesota lakeshore owners who strive to protect the quality of their lakes could earn "Star Lake" status under a bill proposed by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

The Star Lake concept would be "a recognition program to reward people and start them thinking about what types of things are going to keep their lakes healthy," Olson said Saturday night in a telephone interview.

"But it is not intended to incorporate or include every lake in the state, by any means," the freshman Democrat said. "It's not intended as a comprehensive solution to all of our water quality problems, but it is a proposal that I think can be helpful in that direction."

Olson hopes to write a bill for the 2008 session outlining a concept that can be heard by Senate environmental panels, knowing that an actual program might not emerge until the 2009 session.

She's asking for input to write that bill, and asks for comment especially from Senate 4 lakeshore owners during a meeting she's hosting 2-5 p.m. Tuesday in Room 123 of the State Capitol in St. Paul.


Interest is high locally for such a meeting too, Olson said, and plans are in the works for a Senate 4 meeting to gain more input in early January, probably at Hackensack.

Olson envisions a voluntary partnership between lakeshore owners, working through their lake associations, and state agencies. Under the proposal, lake associations would voluntarily commit to meet certain "best management" criteria, commit to certain standards or goals, volunteer personnel for monitoring and enforcement, and maintain full compliance with water and shoreland-related laws and ordinances.

In exchange for that commitment, the state would recognize the lake as a "Star Lake," which, under Olson's proposal, would prioritize the lake for:

E Public access infrastructure needed to control invasive species.

E Water monitoring, testing and clean-up.

E A possible revolving loan fund to assist with compliance issues.

E Other reasonable assistance to enhance a lake's health.

Olson isn't on an environmental committee, but said she's been approached by many lakeshore owners, especially in the southern part of Senate 4, to consider such legislation. And she said she's received encouragement from senators who are on the panel and canoed with her earlier this summer on the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca.


She's also sought input from local state Department of Natural Resources staff, who told her that curbing the spread of invasive non-native plant species is perhaps the No. 1 activity lake associations could undertake with the Star Lake program.

"The idea is we should encourage lakeshore owners to move in the right direction by making the standards something more than what the law requires at this point but not impossible to meet," Olson said.

As example, a lake association could set a goal of restoring a certain percentage of lakeshore back to natural vegetation in order to meet Star Lake requirements.

"Saying to revegetate 100 percent of the shoreline would probably not be an achievable goal for any lake," she said. "But it might be possible to revegetate, over a certain period of time, 25 percent or possibly more."

Under her proposed bill, a technical advisory panel would be created to take the best measures from the lake associations statewide to provide a suggested uniform statewide "best practices" list of standards and goals.

She underscores that the program would be voluntary, and isn't meant to supersede zoning or land use policies which are local decisions. Nor is it intended as a vehicle to block public access from lakes.

"There are some things lake associations would like the DNR to do, for example, closing public accesses," Olson said. "The lake belongs to everyone, as a public water. ... A better approach is to find ways to work together."

If the DNR puts financial resources into a public landing, a lake association could maximize that investment by offering volunteers to monitor the boats landing and launching in the prevention of spreading invasive species, especially during prime times, she said.


The Star Lake program would develop a menu of such practices for lake associations, such as also adopting measures to protect lake bottoms near accesses from people running up their motors, thus disturbing the vegetation.

"My proposal isn't about preventing development," Olson said. "It's about protecting the lakes from certain types of development that can be detrimental to the lake."

There are ways to develop land around a lake, Olson said, that would have much less impact on the lake than other ways to develop the lakeshore.

"When the majority of people on the lake have made this commitment to their lake, and are working hand in hand with public agencies, not only are they going to make sure that their lake stays clean, but they're really protecting the value of their property," Olson said. "And perhaps even enhancing the value of their property."

The effort will also help prioritize DNR spending on lake programs, and provide accountability for tax monies to lakes with a formal commitment to a water quality program.

"With these partnerships, we're going to get a lot more bang for our buck," she said.

While there continues to be resistance over state-mandated regulations -- Olson's program is voluntary -- the Democrat says there's a growing mood among the public to embrace "green" programs.

Star Lake is a way to provide an incentive to people to keep their lakes healthy, she said. "We also need to help educate people who are opposed to being told what to do, but at the same time I think are still concerned about our lakes."


Many people are simply just not aware of things they can do to keep lakes healthy, she added.

It's also a goal of state tourism efforts, said Olson, who is on the board of the state's Explore Minnesota tourism program, to promote "eco-tourism."

"People are developing much more of an awareness of conservation and environmentally friendly businesses," she said. "It's becoming an issue in rural areas, such as even in Bemidji."

Going to local grocery stores, "you're starting to see things that are marketing to the idea of being environmentally friendly or conservation oriented."

Olson's proposal for lakes is an extension of that effort, she said.

"Nearly all of my constituents rely on healthy lakes for either the value of their home, the success of their business, or for their enjoyment and recreation," said Olson. "Unfortunately, many of our lakes are at a tipping point that requires quick action. The Star Lake proposal will move us toward a public-private partnership aimed at building a cleaner and healthier Minnesota."

People interested in attending Tuesday's meeting may contact Olson's office at (651) 296-4913 or .

Those who can't attend the meeting but are interested in sharing their comments or suggestions can phone or e-mail their ideas.

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