Two lake improvement districts were approved Tuesday by the Crow Wing County Board, but commissioners voiced mixed feelings.
Petitioners asked for the lake improvement districts on Kimble Lake and Sibley Lake in order to combat invasive aquatic species. To that end, the lake districts are able to tax lakeside property owners annually.
The districts plan to raise $20,000 for Kimble Lake, also known as Kimball Lake, at $200 per property owner and $18,500 for Sibley Lake at $108 per property owner. Eurasian water milfoil, in limited dock areas, was found in Kimble Lake in 2007. Curly-leaf pondweed is a main issue for Sibley Lake.
The majority of the board agreed with two changes. Three members of the nine-member lake improvement district board will be riparian lot owners but not members of the lake association. And a public hearing would be needed to make a change in the assessment to property owners. Commissioner Doug Houge voted against the motions.
The calm view of Sibley Lake was recently captured from Sibley Park in Pequot Lakes. Petitions for lake improvement districts on Sibley Lake and Kimble Lake were approved by Crow Wing County Tuesday, but commissioners struggled with the decision. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It just seems like a Band-Aid to me," Houge said, noting 40 to 50 lakes are affected by these issues and the county has just four lake improvement districts already established. "It just seems like we'll continue to chase our tail until we look at this as a big picture. ... I just struggle passing this bill on to the lakeshore owners when it's a much bigger problem."
Recognizing the value of lakes and the need to look after them, Houge said a countywide task force may be an option along with more of a push with the DNR to deal with the issue.
Pequot Lakes area resident Rick Beyer said the DNR was washing its hands of the responsibility by giving it to lake improvement districts. Beyer told commissioners he was concerned about legal risk and liability posed by the districts should there be a class action related to fish kill or people sickened by chemicals used to treat the invasive species. The liability, Beyer said, is passed through to property owners and, if the district dissolves, could fall to the county.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said the water quality issue was a public one as the DNR is charged with protecting against invasive species and the public accesses on the lakes are bringing the problem in not the lakeside property owners.
Beyer said districts are put in place by good intentions to protect water but the issue is more complicated. But Beyer said he believes the issue needs to go to a referendum. "This is a pocketbook issue that is not going to go away."
The county has at least four other lake improvement districts already established for Round, Ossawinnamakee, Crow Wing and South Long lakes.
Steve Erickson, president of the Kimble Lake Homeowners Association, spoke in favor of the improvement district. Erickson said living on the lake is a special privilege and when something goes wrong with the lake, property values are affected.
"Expecting the DNR to be able to deal with all the potential challenges facing our natural resources, in my opinion, is not a realistic or politically obtainable goal," Erickson said. In a troubled economy, Erickson said it's difficult to have another tax. But without early detection and control of the invasive species it could grow to unimaginable proportions, Erickson said. "Kimble and all of our lakes deserve the best care that we can possibly give them so that following generations can enjoy these lakes as we have enjoyed them."
Erickson said he understood the liability concerns and there are appropriate ways to manage those risks and protect everyone's interests. As for liability, Auditor Deborah Erickson said there are hold harmless clauses, such as those used for county trail systems and that could be added as a requirement.
"This is not a simple issue of lake quality in my mind," Thiede said. While he said he agreed living on a lake is a privilege, Thiede said it shouldn't be denied because taxes continue to go up.
"I really have reservations for passing this on to the local folks," said Commissioner Dewey Tautges, adding this method was more direct to the people living on the lake with the problems. Tautges said if invasive species aren't addressed, it could overtake the lakes as it did in Lake Minnetonka. Tautges too was in favor of state money focused on the issue.
Millions of Crow Wing County dollars could be spent on this problem, Thiede said, and people from outside the county would still be putting their boats in here. "This is not just a Crow Wing County issue."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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