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home : letters : letters May 24, 2016

7/15/2014 7:59:00 AM
Writer seeks democratic process in Rest Lake dam issue

To the Editor:

Congratulations to the citizens of Minocqua regarding their recent voting against the Torpy shelter. The citizens got to vote for, or against, the Torpy shelter. I think it’s wonderful news that citizens can still express their opinions, and the local government accepts that decision. While I don’t know if this is a good vote or not, I greatly appreciate the application of American democracy, just by voting.

Now contrast the Torpy voting to the way many of our other government agencies rule, like the DNR for example. Specifically, the example of the DNR and the Rest Lake Dam situation. At a recent DNR “town hall”-like meeting in Manitowish Waters, the DNR said they again wanted to again gather local input. But then, the first DNR woman speaker, after the expensive DNR lawyer of course, began her speech by stating that this decision was not up for a vote. She said the decision was exclusively in the hands of the DNR. She sure put us in our place: heck, we’re just taxpaying citizens! 

The 200 or so property owners and tax paying citizens should have all gotten up and left, but we didn’t. But why isn’t a vote of the property owners being taken? Don’t the 1,300 property owners deserve a vote in a democracy? This seems like just another example of why so many folks have lost confidence in our government these days. Government officials talk a lot. But they really don’t listen, at all. We went through the exercise anyway, even with the DNR’s decision seemingly made up years ago. The DNR has slowed down and skirted around the issues, over the past 12 years, but the government railroad is still going strong, full steam ahead. “Raising sturgeon” has been minimized now, with that goal switched to “returning to a natural environment.” If so, why not get rid of the dam completely, and “go back to nature” even before the dam? Why only go back 75 years of a successful status quo? And get rid of Highway 51 too, so as to “return to nature.” I got the impression we were all wasting our time while expensively paying more salary to the eight or so DNR officials at the meeting. I, too, believe in job security at the DNR, but enough is enough. 

I wasn’t impressed with the DNR presenters: the dam expert, the fish guy, the lakes and river person, the habitat specialist, etc. Does the state of Wisconsin really need all these expensive DNR specialists? And do they all need to spend a significant time, over 12 years, to work on this single project? As somebody at the meeting asked, “What have all these people cost Wisconsin taxpayers?” The DNR, of course, didn’t answer and said they “didn’t know.” Business executives would know how much staff costs on a project would be. One DNR presenter said this effort began in 2002 when “there were some civilian complaints” from down-river folks. When asked how many complaints were received and who complained, the DNR person “didn’t know” even after these complaints were the basis of this costly odyssey. Then some graphs were put up, showing things we mostly already knew. The DNR referenced other lakes and chains that experienced this same type of situation, and lived through it. But when asked, the DNR couldn’t recall the names of the lakes or chains (say what?).

Several folks spoke of the costly, ruinous damage to existing piers and boat houses. The DNR actually offered solutions of aerators, strong pilings or such. Not real economical or reasonable solutions. The DNR had determined, several years ago, that they didn’t need and wouldn’t do an “Economic Analysis.” So they ignored the very significant pier replacement costs. They didn’t even seem to know how many such permanent piers are now in place: about 1,000. As a homeowner, I’ve already calculated that it will cost me, a taxpayer paying a “DNR Tax” as I call it, between $5,000 and $10,000 to replace my pier. The total of 1,000 piers, at $5,000 each, means that the DNR is costing the Manitowish Chain property owners about $5 million in damages. How can they possibly do that? $5 million, from just 1,300 property owners, to “return the river to a more natural environment?” How can our government leaders, Walker and top DNR officials, permit a dozen staff folks to cause $5 million of damages? And again, without any kind of real justification or a democratic vote?

I could go on about the lack of professionalism in the DNR’s case and presentation. I was in business for more than 30 years. If I presented such a weak case, without complete documentation on every angle and detail, especially without economic factors, my top management would be all over me. I’d be fired. As such, I don’t think our government earns much respect these days. This is just another example of why. Ramming expensive actions down our throats, without listening to real input and doing their due diligence, is wrong. Time spent on a project, by the DNR, is not a reflection of quality. And where is any sense of “management control” over this? They need to remember that they work of us, not the other way around. I think it’s our right to vote on this.

Jim Ihlenfeld
Manitowish Waters

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2014
Article comment by: Gary Meinert

Very well said, Mr. Ihlenfeld. So many people will be hurt by this action of the DNR but they can only be added to the endless list of others over the past decades. This is truly an unbridled case of government gone wild by a department which is law unto themselves.
I hope you can stop their actions so others in the future will have heart.

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