Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Thursday afternoon that he is ordering all cars, trucks and SUVs off Hennepin County ice and that public lake accesses will be closing until further notice.
The new regulations take effect immediately. Snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles will still be permitted on the ice.
Stanek said implementation of the new regulations was prompted by dangerous ice conditions being experienced on bodies of water such as Lake Minnetonka, where two vehicles have broken through the ice and sunk to the bottom in recent weeks. In all, five vehicles have broken through the ice on Hennepin County waters this season.
“Folks, it’s not worth the loss of life or serious injury just to drive on a frozen lake," Stanek said. “We’ve had too many close calls already."
Cars have so far gone through the ice on Medicine Lake, Eagle Lake in Maple Grove, Lake Minnetonka and Lake Riley in Eden Prairie. Several ice boats and multiple fish houses have also needed salvaging.
Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was consulted prior to the sheriff’s Thursday order, and Stanek said they “concur” with his decision.
“This is the way it will be,” Stanek said.
Increased water patrols will began Thursday nigh across Hennepin County, and Stanek said individuals with a vehicle on the ice past sunset could face a misdemeanor charge, possible fine and a mandatory court appearance.
"Keep in mind that enforcement of the new restrictions will emphasize educating the public—and verbal warning, if needed," Lisa Kiava, Communications Director for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, said. "Our goal is to keep people safe, not write tickets."
Darrell Huggett heads the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Enforcement Services Division and Water Patrol. Standing on the shores of Spring Park Bay, where several vehicles were parked Thursday morning, Huggett said the order being issued by the sheriff was “extremely unusual” but appropriate given the wildly fluctuating ice conditions being seen this year.
Ice safety information (provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office):
• Most victims of fatal accidents on the ice in Hennepin County have been children. Keep children away from thin ice on rivers, ponds, creeks, and lakes. When your child is near the ice or the water, you should be near your child.
• The early part of winter has traditionally been the time of year when children are at-risk for ice accidents because of the holiday schedule over the next few weeks. Children will have more time on their hands to explore outside.
• Small bodies of water such as ponds are especially a hazard now since they are the most likely to have a thin layer of ice. A dusting of snow or frost may give thin ice the appearance that it is safe when it is not.
• Remember to keep your dog on a leash this time of year. The Sheriff’s Office has responded to drownings and near-drownings involving pet owners who put themselves in jeopardy chasing after a dog that wandered onto thin ice.
• If families plan to enjoy indoor water recreation at hotels or other locations, create a water safety plan. More drownings in Hennepin County take place in swimming pools and hot tubs – compared to natural bodies of water. Non-swimmers and weak swimmers should consider wearing life jackets even in an indoor pool. Active supervision by an adult is still needed.