8/22/2019 7:28:00 AM Oneida County AIS program receives committee support
Jacob Friede Of the Lakeland Times
Supporters of Oneida County's Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program got a boost of confidence from the Oneida County Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee last week.
The committee passed a motion of support for the AIS program, a division of Oneida County's Land and Water Conservation Department, which has come under review by the Funding Opportunities Committee.
"The committee recommends that the county continue to support the AIS tax levy no less than we are currently supporting it," said county board supervisor Robb Jensen, a Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee and Funding Opportunities Committee member.
The Funding Opportunities Committee was established to find revenue and cut costs in order to come up with $800,000 for wage increases for county employees. The Carlson Dettmann consulting firm found the county needed such increases in order to stay competitive as an employer.
The Funding Opportunities Committee is currently evaluating the efficiency of certain county programs and services, in particular those not mandated by the state. The AIS program is not state-mandated.
Oneida County's AIS program is coordinated by its only full-time employee, Stephanie Boismenue. Her team consists of one seasonal lead AIS program assistant and two seasonal AIS program assistants.
The program is dedicated to the identification, prevention, control, and management of AIS in the county. Boismenue and her team, among many other endeavors, do extensive outreach work with communities, lake associations, and schools through AIS identification training and AIS eduction workshops. They also offer grant writing assistance, engage in rehabilitation projects and help implement programs like Clean Boats, Clean Waters.
Noting the importance of such a program to Oneida County, which has AIS in 170 of its 1,129 lakes and rivers, Jensen cautioned the review of the AIS program was no more than that.
"These ideas are brainstorming ideas," Jensen said. "We're not cutting anything at this point. All we're saying is these are ideas to possibly consider. Come back and justify them for us. It's just proving to the committee that this investment of taxpayer dollars, whatever it is, is a good investment."
Over a dozen members of the public showed up for last week's meeting to say that it was.
Bruce Renquist of the Three Lakes Waterfront Association said, due to Boismenue's training, the Three Lakes chain now has over 100 diligent, educated observers watching its shores and voluntarily monitoring it for any signs of AIS.
"When I'm standing here, behind me are 124 - or probably more this year - volunteers who are working their tails off to monitor the shoreline of the Three Lakes Chain. We have 109 miles of shoreline," Renquist said. "And if you guys want to have a revenue problem, think about the Three Lakes chain going south and property values plummeting because of it. So I would consider in your thoughts of validating the AIS program to really think about that."
Eileen Lonsdorf, president of the Hasbrook Lake Association, also praised the AIS program and Boismenue's dedication to its mission.
"Hasbrook Lake just found the first patch of water milfoil on our lake and we would like to get going on eradicating it," Lonsdorf said. "We think we've got only one little patch. Stephanie (Boismenue) was connecting with me at 9:30 at night and that's how dedicated she is to training people. Hooking you up with the right people. What to do? Where to go? This is all new to us. I can't tell you how invaluable Stephanie (Boismenue) and her training and her expertise is and I would beg you not to defund that program."
Rob Brodhead, immediate past president of the Two Sisters Lake Property Owner's Association, said there is no invasive species in Two Sisters Lake, and the education and training shared by Boismenue has helped keep it that way.
"She's been a tremendous resource," Brodhead said.
Jensen said the type of public support shown for the AIS program at the meeting is exactly what the Funding Opportunities Committee is looking for when evaluating a program's validity, and he was confident that the other committee would see the value of the AIS program.
"I don't see it going anywhere. I believe the money is a good investment," Jensen said in reference to the AIS program. "It's taxpayers' dollars, yes, but it benefits all taxpayers and all those that visit Oneida County. I don't think it's going anywhere."
To be sure of that, Bob Mott, county board supervisor and chairman of the Conservation and UW-Extension Committee, advised supporters to continue to signal their AIS program support in emails to the Funding Committee members and/or comment at their committee meetings and county board meetings.
"To be vigilant and supportive of this program we need the kind of testimony that we had today," Mott said. "Because if we didn't have it people could say 'well nobody cares about that.'"
Jacob Friede may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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