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No wheelage tax for Lake County -- yet

Drivers in St. Louis County may soon join others around the state in paying a wheelage tax, but Lake County drivers won't be added to that list. At least not yet.

With deadlines looming, the county commissioners decided against imposing the additional fee on vehicle registrations in 2014 at their Tuesday meeting. However, commissioners seemed inclined to throw their support behind a fee for 2015.

"Everybody's trying to get their head around it a little bit," said Rich Sve, chairman of the board. "Plus, we have budgets coming up and we'll have a good handle on what we'll have for monies there."

The matter is further complicated by the fact that Lake County Highway Engineer Al Goodman retired last week and his position, which would be key in implementing the new tax, is still vacant.

Neighboring St. Louis County is poised to take up discussion of a wheelage tax at its meeting next week. That county is proposing a $10 fee on vehicle registrations beginning in 2014.

Previously, only Twin Cities metro areas could institute a wheelage tax of up to $5. However, the Minnesota Legislature expanded the option to all counties in the state, with a cap at $10. By law, collections from the tax must go to construction projects.

County wants gypsy moth decision

With time ticking away before a quarantine on wood harvested in Lake County could kick in, board members and county officials appeared increasingly frustrated at Tuesday's meeting.

Nate Eide, land commissioner for the county forestry department, reported to the board that he has made no progress in getting details from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). He said he has heard rumors that the quarantine may be limited to Cook County -- at least for now -- but he has not received any official word from the state agency.

"We need to get a little more pressure on them," Eide said after the meeting. "It's frustrating."

Commissioners suggested that the potential quarantine would hurt Lake County businesses.

"We need to be supportive of our loggers," Sve said. "All the mom and pop loggers we have in Lake County."

The MDA released its gypsy moth quarantine proposal earlier this year and has met with loggers and lumber companies in Lake and Cook counties, but has yet to officially enact the proposal.

The proposal calls for a spring 2014 implementation of strict regulations on wood harvest in the two counties. Companies that ship wood outside of the county would have to agree to a strict compliance agreement for the handling of wood.

Gypsy moth caterpillars are known to defoliate large sections of forest. The invasive species has been spreading west for several decades. Twenty states are currently under at least partial quarantine, including most of Wisconsin. MDA officials concede that it is impossible to stop the spread of the moths. Rather, they seek to slow the spread.

Eide suggested that strict regulation is not the answer to dealing with the inevitable. He noted that the East Coast has dealt with it for a long time, and said there's really no way to stop the spread.

"There's not much you can do. You just deal with it," he said. "It's been over there (on the East Coast) for 100 years and they still have trees."