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COLA hosting 2 candidate forums in Becker County

Aquatic invasive species, shoreland development, flooding, water contamination from pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. The list goes on.

Keeping our lakes and rivers clean and healthy for the use of future generations has never been a more challenging task than it is right now.

The Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) is taking that task very seriously, which is why its members are hosting back-to-back candidate forums for county and state election hopefuls this coming Thursday, Sept. 13.

All five county board seats will be up for grabs in the November general election, which is why each of the incumbent county commissioners has been invited to participate in the forum, along with their challengers.

"All of the candidates have been invited," said Terry Kalil, vice president of Becker County COLA.

Though only two of the county board seats are being contested, Kalil said COLA believes all of the commissioner candidates should be ready and willing to answer questions from the people they will be representing if elected.

Commissioners John Okeson, Gerry Schram and Barry Nelson have all confirmed that they will be attending, along with candidate Craig Fontaine.

"Candidate Ben Grimsley will not be there," said Kalil, adding that he had notified her he would be out of town that evening.

"Commissioner Don Skarie has also declined," she added, while Commissioner Larry Knutson had yet to respond to the invitation as of Friday morning.

The county candidate forum will begin at 7 p.m. on the M State campus in Detroit Lakes; there will be refreshments served starting at 6:30 p.m., Kalil said.

Shawn Olson, a past president of the Otter Tail County COLA who was recently voted upon by its membership as the 2012 COLA Volunteer of the Year, will serve as moderator for the county forum.

Kalil will be the moderator for the state legislative forum, which will follow the county forum after a short break.

Candidates who have confirmed that they will be in attendance include Paul Marquart, Kent Eken, Rod Skoe, Britta Sailer, Paul Sandman, Phil Hansen, Dennis Moser and Steve Green.

Most of the topics to be covered during the forums will focus on environmental issues, Kalil noted, though "we will try to get to as many questions from the audience as we can."

At a workshop held earlier this summer, COLA's members discussed and voted upon the issues they felt were the most pressing at both the county and state level.

What they discovered, Kalil said, was that there were two main issues of concern for the county:

"The county needs more constant and uniform enforcement of its zoning ordinance, including its mandatory septic system inspection program," she said.

The other, even more pressing issue is that "the county has to take a more high profile, visible role in fighting aquatic invasive species (AIS)."

"There's so much at risk," she said. "If a lake goes south, it doesn't just affect the property owners, it affects everybody."

A study that was done in Vermont on the effect of Eurasian watermilfoil contamination on lakeshore property values showed that it decreased those property values by an average of 16.4 percent.

What if Big Detroit Lake became similarly contaminated, by zebra mussels or another form of AIS?

"If everybody's property value goes down 16 percent, what would that do to our tax base, and how would we make up that revenue?" Kalil said.

The same concerns, AIS protection and shoreland management regulations, came up when discussing state legislative issues, Kalil said, along with one other: How Legacy amendment funding is being used to protect public waters.

These questions and others will be addressed at Thursday's forums, which are both free and open to the public.