Legacy zebra mussel research proposal meets turbulence

Zebra mussels on a twig
In this July 21, 2011 photo, Margaret Schupp displays zebra mussels that have latched on to a small twig on the shore of Fair Hills resort on Pelican Lake in Minnesota.
AP Photo/The Forum, Chris Franz

Members of the council charged with distributing Legacy Amendment funds for the outdoors disagreed on Thursday whether a proposal to research bacteria that can kill zebra mussels should be considered for funding.

The Douglas County Lakes Association asked the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for $350,000 to research the possibility that a product called Zequanox, made of a dead form of a soil bacteria, could be used in a lake setting to control zebra mussels, an invasive species. Zebra mussels have taken over in dozens of lakes and rivers in Minnesota.

Several members of the council said it wouldn't be appropriate to use Legacy money to fund research.

"Our constitutional mandate is to fund on-the-ground projects that are going to accomplish things. Research is not part of that," said David Hartwell, the council's chairman.

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Other members suggested the company that's trying to bring Zequanox to market, Marrone Bio Innovations, find private investors to finance the research.

"Basically what this is is a $300,000 investment in a private company, who if they make a zillion dollars off of it at the end of the day, isn't going to return any portion of that to the Outdoor Heritage Fund," member Scott Rall said.

Bonnie Huettl, president of the Douglas County Lakes Association, said Marrone Bio is focusing its efforts on water intake pipes for now.

Zebra mussels
This undated photo provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows a group of zebra mussels, taken from Lake Erie. Dozens of foreign species could spread across the Great Lakes in coming years and cause significant damage to the environment and economy, despite policies designed to keep them out, a federal report says.
AP Photo/U.S. Department of Agriculture

"They have not yet done the research to do what they call open water, in lakes. That's what I'm pushing. They will get around to it, but we don't know when," she said.

Huettl was hopeful after other members of the council said Zequanox is promising enough that it deserves consideration.

"It's not a lot of money but I think it should be considered," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who also chairs the Senate committee that oversees Legacy appropriations. "We should look at this as at least a starting place."

"This testing should happen, and if it's not us, who's it going to be?" asked Ron Schara, another member of the council.

Other members suggested that the project fits more within the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which decides how to distribute proceeds from the Minnesota Lottery.

During Wednesday and Thursday's hearings, the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council learned about some 40 different outdoors projects. During its Sept. 20 meeting, the council will decide how to spend up to $96 million next year to protect, restore and enhance the state's prairies, wetlands and forests.