DNR postpones lake-health discussion

Milaca – A group of officials sat waiting the morning of Aug. 15 in a Mille Lacs County board room for Department of Natural Resources officials to arrive for a general meeting about the state of walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, but they were disappointed just before the meeting start time. Fisheries Chief Dan Pereira and Regional Fisheries Manager Brad Parsons had called a few minutes before the start time to apologize and temporarily cancel their presentation due to a “scheduling miscommunication.”

The Mille Lacs County commissioners, along with Minnesota Rep. Sondra Erickson and Senator Andrew Mathews, County Administrator Pat Oman, East Side Township Chairman Steve Johnson and several others had gathered to have the long-awaited meeting. They’re among the people hearing “constantly” from constituents about the gravity of the situation at the lake, where for two years walleye fishing has been constrained by closures, restrictions, catch limits and other regulations.
Residents and business owners of the area generally contend the science being used to make lake-health judgments is flawed. They see plenty of walleye in the lake. The agency contracted this summer with an independent fisheries scientist, Dr. Chris Vandergoot of the U.S. Geological Survey in Sandusky, Ohio, to analyze lake health and see if another expert reaches the same conclusions.
The group had been slated to talk about the economic impact of the lack of walleye fishing on a lake that has historically and traditionally been a walleye-rich lake. Seasonal business has slowed to a trickle, and though the state offered grants and forgivable loans, the residents of the area say the financial assistance is appreciated but still like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
County Assessor Al Heim said, “There’s been a lot of interest over the past few years about what is happening to the property value up around the Mille Lacs Lake area.”
District 5 contains Mille Lacs Lake and has shown a steady decrease in its share of the county’s market value. Heim had printed data that show the decline:
•2014 value – 33.7%
•2015 value – 32.2%
•2016 value – 31.5%
•2017 value – 30.2%
The group established that a tenth of a percent in estimated market value represents about $2 million. It confirmed that a percentage point in market value represents about $20 million. While there’s been a focus on resort business, the state of the lake health affects everyone in the area.
Rep. Erickson said residents are asking for property-tax abatement since “they believe they also have been directly affected by the management.” She said because people can’t enjoy their traditions, many seasonal residents don’t even put out their dock.
Johnson said he’d come to the meeting because of general concern in his area, “Perception has so much to do with property values.”
He agrees property owners in the area feel forgotten. He said some of the area cabins have been in families for generations; lake-area property used to be coveted and now it seems cursed. Johnson said the lack of walleye fishing has a ripple effect on home owners and businesses.
Seasonal property owners aren’t coming to the lake as often, and therefore the stores, gas stations and other businesses that serve them are also suffering losses. Johnson said the residents of the lake are really the “most important up there.”
While no determinations was made in the meeting that day, Oman said the DNR presentation has been rescheduled for September 5 following the regular County Board meeting.