More manpower on lakes this summer, commissioners question limitations
Aquatic hitchhikers will be facing a muscled up watercraft inspection force in Douglas County this summer. Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush plans to hire eight watercraft inspectors to patrol area lakes.
In 2012, five inspectors, two level one and three level two, were part of the pilot program paid for by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant. This year there will be four of each level.
Commissioners accepted a $32,750 cost reimbursable grant and approved hiring eight inspectors. Rush reported that the application for the DNR grant was approved a week prior to the commissioners' meeting.
In accepting the grant, the county entered into a delegation agreement with the DNR, rather than a joint powers agreement as it had done in 2012. Under the delegation agreement, the DNR essentially transfers its authority to inspect watercraft, to determine need of decontamination and to determine refusal of entry into a lake, to Douglas County watercraft inspectors, Rush explained.
"They are delegating those powers to us," Rush said. "It's like being deputized."
Commissioner Jerry Johnson questioned if the delegation agreement puts more liability on the county. County Attorney Chad Larson said it does not add any more responsibility to Douglas County.
Last year, inspectors worked a total of 1,200 hours at a cost of approximately $12,000. Based on that data, Rush determined this year the county could use additional inspectors and cover more locations.
The DNR will reimburse wages up to $7.75 an hour for level one and $11 an hour for level two; $7,750 can be allocated for level one inspectors. The grant covers 1,000 hours of inspection. Level one inspectors will be hired at $8 an hour with the county picking up the 25 cent per hour remainder that is not reimbursable from the DNR grant.
Level one inspectors are trained to inspect watercraft but are not authorized to run the decontamination unit. Level two inspectors have additional training that allows them to operate the county's high pressure, hot water, trailer-mounted unit purchased last year.
Commissioner Jim Stratton expressed concern about the instructors' level of authority. The delegation agreement does not permit watercraft inspectors to issue citations; whereas DNR officers can.
"It's like giving somebody a gun without any bullets," Stratton said. "Like Barney Fife."
Rush explained that inspectors are issued cell phones and have contact with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and DNR water patrols. Rush added that students from the Alexandria Technical and Community College law enforcement program are "heavily recruited" for inspector positions because of their training.
No incidents were reported last year of uncooperative boaters or refusal of entry to lakes, Rush said.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.