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Legacy council members criticize invasive species plan

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Monitoring zebra mussels
Eric Fieldseth, with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, examines a rock while conducting zebra mussel monitoring in Minnehaha Creek in June 2013.
MPR File Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The council that recommends how the state should spend Legacy Fund money on the outdoors is criticizing an invasive species project for being too vague and possibly violating the intent of the constitutional amendment.

  The Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council on Thursday sent the project back for more work and will consider the plan at its December meeting.

  The $3.6 million project, led by the Initiative Foundation, aims to figure out the best way to spend Legacy money to help fight against invasive species in Minnesota's lakes and rivers. In an unusual turn of events, it was  created by the council after members rejected other aquatic invasive species projects proposed by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations.

  But at today's meeting, it was clear several council members have doubts about the project.

  "This is very, very vague," member Jim Cox said of the proposal. 

  Don Hickman, the Initiative Foundation's vice president for community and economic development, acknowledged that concern, but said it was important to identify the most effective methods to fight invasive species.

  "What we're looking for is what's the right mix, what's the right recipe?" Hickman said.

  Hickman agreed to come back to the council with more details, but council members identified one other potential problem with the project: whether it can pass constitutional muster. The Legacy Amendment states that Outdoor Heritage Fund money must be used to "preserve, restore and enhance" habitat.

  "I don't think there are projects that meet the constitutional amendment. That's why we haven't provided funding to date," council member Jane Kingston said. "Just to allay anyone in the audience or in the general population's thought that we're not concerned about [aquatic invasive species], that's cuckoo. We are. But our structure does not provide for this sort of activity."

  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has generally agreed with the assertion that Legacy outdoors money can't be used for aquatic invasive species. But DNR officials have said they support the proposal. 

  Even if the council ends up backing the plan, the state Legislature has the ultimate authority on how Legacy funds should be allocated.