Pioneer of weed harvesting here concerned by council’s move to eliminate the program

12317weeds.jpgBruce Carlson remembers what Forest Lake was like when he moved here in 1977. The lake was clogged with weeds and many home owners were forced to use chemicals to knock down the vegetation shooting from the water each summer. A trip through the channel between First and Second lakes was possible if you followed the narrow swath that allowed boats to pass, Carlson says.


(Forest Lake Times File Photo By Cliff Buchan)

Weeds were harvested in First Lake near the channel to the bay area of the city in this file photo from 2001. A Forest Lake City Council decision last month has suspended the lake weed harvesting program for 2008. The program was eliminated to reduce expenditures in the 2008 city budget. 

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Bruce Carlson remembers what Forest Lake was like when he moved here in 1977. The lake was clogged with weeds and many home owners were forced to use chemicals to knock down the vegetation shooting from the water each summer. A trip through the channel between First and Second lakes was possible if you followed the narrow swath that allowed boats to pass, Carlson says.

Carlson had recently moved here, seeking a lake home and a place to raise his family.

“The lake was so bad,” he recalls. “There was this narrow pass in the channel. I was going to sell my property and move.”

But five years into his life in Forest Lake, Carlson said he turned proactive instead of being reactive. He joined the Lake Improvement Association and teamed with other lake lovers to find ways to make life on the lake better and improve the city’s most vital natural resource.

In 1982, led largely by the inspiration of the late Mayor John F. Skoglund, the city of Forest Lake and the former Town of Forest Lake came together to purchase a weed harvester and began a lake weed cutting program with the approval of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“I started the cutting operations working six days a week for five bucks an hour,” Carlson said.

In that first year of cutting, Carlson said the weeds were so thick the container barge would be filled with weeds in 30 minutes. Operators would off-load the weeds which were hauled to composting locations or used as fertilizer.

But the efforts paid off, Carlson believes. “The effort was tremendous,” he said. “The lake significantly improved.”

2008 concerns

As 2008 opens, Carlson says he now has concerns for what will become of the lake he has come to love so much.

A Forest Lake City Council decision last month to suspend the weed harvesting program as a budget saving act for 2008 is a move that Carlson questions.

“This decision was purely irresponsible on the part of the city council,” Carlson says.

He believes the council decision was made without a knowledgeable review of the history of the lake and the weed harvesting program.

Carlson has had more than a passing interest in the program. After his initial days of serving as the operator, he formed a private corporation that was hired by the city to run the operation.

Carlson’s Lakes Preservation Management was retained by the city until 2005. In all, Carlson spent 22 years with deep involvement in the program.

He also spent the last half of his years with the weed harvesting program as an elected official. Carlson served 12 years on the city council before stepping down in 2004.

He says he has no gripes over the city’s decision to no longer utilize his management company. In reality, he says, it frees him to follow other pursuits in his retirement years.

He is a retired educator from the White Bear Lake public school system. He keeps his home in Forest Lake, but spends time near Bayfield, WI, and also has interests near South Padre Island, TX.

“I have no political sour grapes,” he said. “After 20 plus years of involvement, the decision was fine with me.”

Carlson’s fears

Carlson says he understands how government works and why some decisions are made. In cutting the weed harvesting program, however, Carlson says he is not sure the move was made for the right reasons.

It will save a budgeted amount of $69,319 in 2008, but Carlson wonders if there will be a greater price to pay in terms of the cost to the lake.

The push to suspend the program in 2008 was led by Councilwoman Susan Young who has said she does not believe the city should fund a program that she thinks benefits a select group.

Carlson begs to differ and said he had the discussion with Young in the past.

He argues that the lake benefits all Forest Lake residents, not just those who live on the lake. Those who live on the lake pay higher property taxes and the lake as a resource is of benefit to everyone and draws people to Forest Lake, he said.

He believes those living on the lake deserve some benefit for the higher taxes that they must pay. “The whole community should be paying something into the lake,” he adds.

The former councilman said home owners on the lake may not see an immediate lake problem in 2008. But in three to five years Carlson believes the weed problem could return to the levels that were found in the late 1970s.

In a tough time for the housing industry and declines in property values, he says lake property values could fall by another 5-10 percent if the quality of the lake degrades.

He fears the return to chemical treatment options. Although the DNR will likely allow permits to private individuals, Carlson said his fear is for those who will treat the lake on their own without any controls in place.

He vividly recalls the old days when Lake Improvement Association officials recovered empty barrels that had been dumped in the lake as part of a private chemical treatment. He recalls the fish kills that would be found from time to time at different locations.

“We’d see gigantic fish kills in some of the treated areas,” Carlson said. “We’d find 30-gallon barrels in the lake.”

It was clear someone was using 24D and copper sulfate to kills weeds.

“Nobody is going to police it,” he said of the future.

And what is more, Carlson says, there will be no one on the lake monitoring weed conditions and checking on Eurasian watermilfoil, a noxious weed that has spread to many state lakes with devastating impact. It is a highly aggressive aquatic plant that can form dense mats which congest waterways and crowd out native aquatic plants.

So far, Carlson said, the Forest Lake chain has been spared of the arrival of milfoil and he is fearful of the day that it takes hold.

Next steps

Carlson hopes his words provide some guidance to city officials and serve as a rallying cry for others who live on the lake.

The newly formed Forest Lake Lake Association has taken notice of the city decision. The association, which has taken on many of the functions of the former LIA, plans to fill Forest Lake City Hall on Monday, Jan. 14 to address the city council on the budgetary decision.

Chance Norby, a board member for the FLLA, said there is strong interest in the lake weed situation from those who live on the lake. In November, more than 100 property owners attended a meeting to review the lake situation.

“There is a big concern for the weed harvesting,” Norby said.

His fear is for the future condition of the lake should the area be hit by another dry summer. That was the case in 2007, he said, and low lake levels highlighted the weed problem.

As someone who spent 22 years on the lake working the program, Carlson says there are some obvious steps that can be taken by leaders and in the operation of the program.

He challenges elected officials to make informed decisions and not react based on purely budgetary reasons.

“How can you represent the city unless you do research?” he asked.

Carlson said he was willing to offer his opinions to the city on what to do but did not receive one call from city staff or council members.

He also believes the weed harvesting operation lacked focus and plan in 2007. Carlson said too much time was spent by the operation in moving the harvesters to areas where the city was getting complaints.

That comes into question even more, he says, based on the fact the weed harvesting budget has gone up from $51,866 in 2006 to estimated expenditures of $60,000 in 2007. Prior to the suspension of the program, a budget of $69,319 was projected for 2008.

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