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Lakeshore owners demand change

A group of lakeshore owners on Wednesday unanimously approved six demands it plans to present to local government officials that it says will protect area lakes.

"That's why this association was formed originally, to protect the water quality in our lakes, among other things," said Douglas County Lakes Association member Jeanne Johnson, who presented the demands that had been in the works for more than a year.

The association specifically used the word "demand" in the language describing the six measures. The association is made up of representatives from individual lake associations.

Thirteen members voted for the measures, which they will present to county, city and township officials, as well as those running the Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation office, and the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District.

The six demands are:

• Upgrade planned-unit development guidelines used to limit development on Douglas County lakes.

• Grant building code variances only for very minor variations.

• Strictly enforce shoreland and buffer zone laws and regulations.

• Inspect septic systems regularly, not just when property changes hands or building permits are sought.

• Reduce chloride and phosphate levels in area lakes by upgrading residential water softeners to reduce the need for salt, limiting road salting, and look for a long-term solution to pollution in Lake Winona and its downstream lakes.

• Support the creation of an environmental legacy fund to provide local matching dollars, often required for grants, using public and private funds.

During the discussion, members raised issues affecting local lakes, such as lakeshore owners illegally clearing out trees within a lake's impact zone and the city of Alexandria having less strict requirements than the county when it comes to lakeshore development.

Member Linda Dokken-McFann called for better education of those involved with lakeshore development, including real estate agents, buyers, landscapers, dock installers, tree clearing companies and related services.

Alexandria area lakes face multiple challenges, as chemicals and fertilizers from yards and farm fields run into them, as does road salt. Nine lakes in Douglas County are on Minnesota's list of impaired waters. However, lakes bring big dollars into the local economy through tourism, recreation and development.

One of those impaired lakes is Lake Winona. State lawmakers recently allocated $600,000 to remove carp from Winona to keep from stirring up phosphorus, but some members expressed skepticism that the funding would solve much. The sanitary district sends treated sewage into that lake.

"It's basically hopeless," one member said of Lake Winona.

After the meeting, Johnson said, "I believe ALASD is adopting a short-term band-aid solution to the downstream polluting that they are dumping into Lake Winona. ... They're saying stop the carp. We're saying stop the polluting."

But she also expressed hope that local officials will take the association's demands seriously.

"Largely, I think they will say, 'Yeah, I think these are all good ideas and we are already doing some of these things and we hope to do better," she said.