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Becker County opts for 2 more decontamination units to fight aquatic invasive species

By Pippi Mayfield / DL Newspapers

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- The fight against aquatic invasive species is being stepped up this summer in Becker County.

The county will be getting two more decontamination units for this summer’s quest to stop AIS, and the process to hire an AIS coordinator and inspectors for the county has also begun.

Decontamination units

Tuesday morning, the Becker County Board approved the purchase of two units, up to $19,000 each and taxes and fees that apply. The units are listed at $18,200 each and there are extras that can be purchased.

The funding for the two units will come from the state AIS grant the county received last year.

At first the board made a motion to purchase just one unit, but after discussion, commissioners all agreed to purchase two instead.

Having two more units — the county already has one — will provide “better coverage for the county,” Commissioner John Okeson said, adding that not many boaters are going to drive across the county to find a decontamination unit if they are denied access to a lake.

The commissioners discussed that one unit will likely be kept by Lake Melissa since it is already contaminated with zebra mussels and one should be in the Cormorant Lakes area because of the 

high volume of boaters in that area. A third one would be good for the more eastern portion of the county like Osage and Cotton Lake.

Becker County resident Steve Lindow spoke at the meeting, asking the commissioners to consider purchasing the extra unit because otherwise without coverage, “you’re setting up a situation that’s not very good for boaters or inspectors.”

While commissioners Barry Nelson and Larry Knutson said they were fine supporting the purchase of two units, they questioned who will man the units and who will determine where they will be located throughout the county.

Nelson added that it would be useful to partner with Hubbard County so if someone near the Hubbard County line is being denied access to a lake, they can go into Hubbard County for the decontamination if the Becker County one is located a long distance away.

“Who’s going to haul them around?” Knutson asked. “Do you have a plan?”

The answer: A partial plan.

Okeson said they should be able to work with law enforcement to move the units around the county.

AIS position

The county is hiring someone to work at least part time in AIS. The full-time position will help out in another department as well. Last month the group wasn’t sure what department that would be, but this month they seemed to be more settled on a location.

Nelson suggested that the county partner with the Becker Soil and Water Conservation District and the Pelican River Watershed District to best utilize the new hire and the AIS resources. While nothing is concrete yet, the county has begun the advertising process, looking for the perfect candidate.

The proposal is that the county would hire the individual and contribute $25,000 from the general reserves to help fund the position. The county will also take care of hiring the inspectors. The BSWCD would supervise the coordinator, and the person would be housed in the PRWD office, getting the expertise administrator Tera Guetter has to offer.

“This could be the best for all three agencies,” 

Nelson said.

He said that when the coordinator isn’t busy with AIS, the other portion of the job would be working with Soil and Water. He said the arrangement could be reviewed after this year to see how it is working for the three entities.

“The more I think about it, it’s a win-win for everyone,” he said, admitting that “the first year will be tricky.”

Knutson said that research of other counties in Minnesota shows the AIS program is under the Soil and Water department. The BSWCD has expressed in the past that it is not interested in taking on AIS though.

Administrator Peter Mead said that while other counties may have AIS under the Soil and Water department, those other counties are running an average of three programs where Becker County is running an average of 20 programs.

He also asked that the three entities sit down next week and discuss the partnership more in-depth.

“It’s a very workable solution,” Okeson said of the partnership.

“You have a credibility,” Nelson told Mead. “It 

would be good to have your name on it — for us.

“This board is willing to do whatever it takes,” Nelson added of helping the position work for everyone.

While the commissioners acknowledged that there are concerns over the partnership, they agreed that there are more benefits than concerns, and the concerns can be worked out.