Senator apologizes to Fish Lake neighbors for walleye rulesState Sen. Satveer Chaudhary came north Thursday night to make peace with his neighbors on Fish Lake.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
State Sen. Satveer Chaudhary came north Thursday night to make peace with his neighbors on Fish Lake.
With about 65 people packed into the bar area of Hi-Banks Resort on the lake, Chaudhary told the crowd that he had made a mistake in pushing legislation that would have put restrictive walleye regulations on the popular lake north of Duluth.
“I screwed up really, really badly,” said Chaudhary, who lives in Fridley, Minn., and owns a home on Fish Lake.
He said he had been given incorrect information about public support for special walleye regulations on the lake, but he neglected to blame anyone who gave him that information.
“I got erroneous information, but I should have known better,” he said. “The buck’s gotta stop with me.”
He repeated his intent to rescind the special regulations law early in the 2011 legislative session. It would be rescinded before the current law can take effect on March 1, 2011, said Chaudhary, who is chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Discourse during the 35-minute meeting was civil and respectful. Although Chaudhary provided little information that hadn’t been in media reports on Wednesday, he reiterated his earlier apologies face to face with local residents.
“I was happy with it (Chaudhary’s appearance),” said Mark Geistfeld of Pike Lake. “I’d like to have had (state Rep. David) Dill and (St. Louis County Commissioner Dennis) Fink show up. He took the bullet for those guys. I respect him for it.”
At Chaudhary’s urging, the Minnesota Legislature, in its final days and without debate, amended outdoors legislation that would require the Department of Natural Resources to come up with “special regulations” for Fish Lake.
A request for the legislation was carried from local residents to county commissioner Fink, Fink told the News Tribune on Tuesday. Fink sent a letter to Chaudhary asking for the special regulations on Fish Lake. Fink said he passed along the request in his capacity as chair of the county board’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Without fact-checking the request, Chaudhary asked Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, to include the amendment in a House bill at the last moment. Dill said he added the measure to the bill “as a courtesy” to Chaudhary. It passed.
Several people in attendance at Thursday evening’s meeting said Fish Lake’s walleye population is in good shape, and special regulations are not needed or wanted.
“I want to get a couple fish for a meal,” said Al Frielund, who owns a cabin on Fish Lake. “I don’t want a slot limit.”
A slot limit would require anglers to immediately release walleyes in a specific size range.
“I’m happy the way it turned out,” said Tim Wagner, owner of Hi-Banks Resort.
He had feared that restrictive walleye regulations would drive anglers away from the lake and his resort.
Neil Luegge, who owns a cabin on Fish Lake, is pleased that Chaudhary intends to rescind the law.
“The DNR may be flawed, but they still have the best information,” Luegge said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Chaudhary said he was pleased with the meeting’s turnout.
“I don’t expect people to trust what I say,” he said afterward, “because I think they feel betrayed by my actions. The only way I’ll be able to earn their trust back is by what I do, not what I say.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in the Minnesota Senate on Thursday called for a review of Chaudhary’s actions for his role in pushing the Fish Lake legislation.
The Republicans sent a letter Thursday to Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, who is chairman of the Rules and Administration Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct, “seeking clarity about a potential conflict of interest.”
The Republican letter of inquiry also seeks clarity of Chaudhary’s compliance of Minnesota’s Conflict of Interest Law and the Senate Rule regarding conflicts of interest.
“I completely followed not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law,” Chaudhary said of the ethics allegations. “I’m fine with an ethics hearing. It’ll clear it up all the quicker.”
Staff writer John Myers contributed to this story.