|Written by Tim Pugmire, MPR News,
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DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing a
special legislative session in August to consider an emergency
financial aid package for resorts and other businesses in the Lake
Mille Lacs area. But House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, says he
thinks it may be too early to talk about bringing back the
Dayton is concerned about the economic
hit that the popular fishing destination will suffer if state
officials close the walleye season early due to a dwindling fish
population. He discussed the idea with Daudt and Senate Majority
Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, on July 28, and they agreed to the
following week to begin planning.
No decisions have been made, but Dayton
told reporters on July 29 that the state assistance could include
zero interest loans, property tax abatements and additional tourism
promotion. He said “time is of the essence” to address a
potentially “catastrophic” situation.
“We need to get the loan program
under way,” Dayton said. “The resorts up there need working
capital so they can pay their employees and just keep open,
especially if the walleye fishing has to be closed beginning next
Before a special session area
legislators, lawmakers who oversee natural resource issues and state
commissioners should meet to talk about the problem and ways to
respond, Daudt told MPR News.
“We’re very concerned about the
situation. We want to make sure we do what’s right by these
resorts. We don’t want to see them suffering because of this
closing of the season early,” Daudt said. “But we also want to
make sure we’re doing the right thing. And we want to look at all
Dayton met on July 29 in St. Paul with
Mille Lacs area officials and business owners. He plans to visit the
area later in the week.
Dayton said he does not believe the
decline in walleye is related to American Indian fishing on the lake,
but he raised concerns about the tribal practice of gill netting
during spawning season, which is allowed under longstanding treaties.
The governor said he also has concerns
about the negative attitudes many Mille Lacs area residents have
about the DNR, and its management of the lake.
“I think we all need to pull together
now and try some things that have been resisted before and see that
we’re all in this together, the tribes as well as the resorters and
others there,” he said. “Everybody is affected by this drastic
situation regarding the walleye population, and rather than pointing
fingers, we need to be pulling together and seeing what we can do to
turn this situation around.”
Dayton isn’t ruling out action on
lake management measures, but he stressed that his priority for the
special session is immediate aid to businesses.
Following the meeting at the governor’s
residence, resort owner Tina Chapman talked about her concerns.
“We’re worried that what’s going
on now isn’t working; what the DNR is doing isn’t working. We
need to make some changes to fix the health of the lake,” she said.
Other industry representatives also
Joel Carlson, a lobbyist for the
Congress of Minnesota Resorts, said he’s pleased that state leaders
are ready to help.
“Mille Lacs is one of the most
popular walleye fisheries in the state and in the country. So
certainly when you restrict fishing on that lake it’s going to have
economic consequences, and not just for resorts.”
Dayton and Daudt said a special session
would also include state assistance for the Brainerd area, which was
hit hard by heavy storms two weeks ago.
MPR News reporter
Tom Scheck contributed to this report.
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