BACKUS - Cass County reported 2020 planning and zoning activity was the highest it has been in 13 years, stated Environmental Services Department Director, John Ringle Tuesday, Jan. 19 to the board of commissioners.

The beginning of 2020 began as a normal year for the planning and zoning department, but when COVID-19 hit business picked up drastically. With most people working from home it seemed home construction and improvement was on their minds. There was a grand total increase of 159 permits for a revenue increase of $106,717, being 26.62%, for the planning and zoning department. Ringle stated that the department saw an increase of 133 zoning permits issued and issued 25 more shoreland alterations in 2020 than 2019.

The majority of the increased activity was in the Crooked Lake, Hiram, Kego, Ponto Lake, Shingobee, Sylvan and Woodrow townships, which all had more than 50 permits issued.

Ringle stated with the increased activity and an expected continuation of this activity into 2021, the department hired Jenny Blue as the new Natural Resource Specialist, which was approved by the board at a previous meeting. Blue was previously an Aquatic Invasive Species Lake Technician with Cass County and presented the 2020 AIS annual report. Blue said during 2020 over 25,800 watercraft inspections were conducted at 35 Cass County lake accesses. A new infestation of zebra mussels was found in Sylvan Lake this past summer and investigations were performed in Woman Lake and Wabedo Lake for AIS, but no confirmation was found.

Due to COVID-19 county AIS staff was unable to meet and partner with lake associations as they have in previous years to help promote the "Clean, Drain, Dry and Dispose" message. It is hopeful that this will change in 2021.

Ringle and Blue presented a proposed budget for the 2021 AIS Management and Prevention Program of $512,000. This amount was actually slightly lower than 2020 and it is expected to receive the same amount of AIS Aid in 2021 as 2020 at $502,878. The budget was approved unanimously by the board.