Mille Lacs resort gets bailout for walleye ‘disaster’

Here’s an idea that probably won’t catch on at the Minnesota Legislature: If you’re going to use taxpayer funds to bail out a single resort on Lake Mille Lacs, how about naming it?

The Star Tribune reports today that Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, tucked this nugget — a claim against the state — into a bill to spur economic development:

“small resort businesses located in the city of Isle with less than $350,000 in annual revenue, at least four rental units, which are open during both summer and winter months, and whose business was adversely impacted by a decline in walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs.”

It’s a $150,000 taxpayer gift to Hunter Winfield’s Resort, which Peterson said has been adversely affected by the Department of Natural Resources limits on walleye in the lake. So have other resorts, but they didn’t get the cash.

“If the issue is that one business suffered a loss because of fishing restrictions on Mille Lacs that were intended to restore the walleye population, there are probably 1,000 businesses on Mille Lacs alone that could make a similar argument,” Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, told the Star Tribune, saying it sets a bad precedent to reimburse just about any business for the impact of the state’s policy decisions.

“We sincerely appreciate the senators and representatives who thoughtfully listened to and heard our concerns,” Margie Christensen of Hunter Winfield’s told the paper.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said taxpayers have a responsibility to the resort because the DNR didn’t warn resorters of the possibility of the collapse of the walleye in the lake.

Maybe, but in 2015, when the DNR warned resorters that restrictions on Walleye’s walleyes were coming, Hunter Winfield’s owners were quoted in a Star Tribune story that seemed to suggest resorters thought there was little need .

“We have a world-class smallmouth bass fishery,’’ said Mike Christensen, who, with his wife, Margie, owns Hunter Winfield’s Resort. “Yeah, the walleyes are down, but where else can you catch 24- to 27-inch fish on a consistent basis?’’

Said Margie Christensen: “We have a lot of people who just want to catch fish.’’

But lawmakers suggest that the payout isn’t any different than when the Legislature helps individuals who are impacted by natural disasters.

Why did only one resort get the money? Only one resort made a claim.