To the Editor:
The Lakeland Times article “DNR: No EIS Needed for Rest Lake Dam,” from the Friday, July 5, 2013 edition, was a disappointment to even the modestly informed citizen. In the past I had been impressed with the level of investigative reporting conducted by The Lakeland Times. More recently the level of reporting has declined to issuing policy statements and rewritten press releases from any number of government agencies. It is sad to see The Lakeland Times deteriorate to the level of CNN and most other news outlets.
The article mentioned reviewed the history of the Manitowish Waters dam and its longstanding operating orders. However, it understated the fact that every property developed and structure built above or below the dam was, or should have been, designed to accommodate the well-known seasonal fluctuation of water levels. Property owers on the river have complained of water fluctuation for decades, and lobbied strongly to change the operating orders of the dam. These “down-dam” property owners essentially moved to the country for “clean living and the good life,” but are now unhappy with the sound of the nearby farmer’s tractor and occasional sounds and smells of the farm.
Where The Lakeland Times truly failed its readership was in the complete lack of discussion regarding the recent history and controversy surrounding dam operations. Nearly 20 years ago the down-dam people unsuccessfully tried to change the dam operations through negotiations with “up-dam” people. Thereafter, the down-dam people took their case to multiple government outlets and found a sympathetic ear with the DNR. The down-dam people were aided by a self-proclaimed environmentalist and also enjoy strong connections with the DNR. The DNR officials were swayed by the down-dam people and essentially sided with them. I suggest the DNR decided more than 10 years ago it would change the operating order of the dam against the wishes of the up-dam people no matter what stood in their way.
The DNR initially met more resistance than was anticipated and had to configure a new strategy to reach its endpoint. Enter “the great sturgeon scare of 2008-09.” Not unlike fighting for under-served children, the DNR came out to protect the vulnerable river sturgeon. The DNR reported that the river sturgeon that have flourished in the river for centuries would benefit from changing the operating orders of the Rest Lake dam. The DNR had no scientific evidence to support this, their claims were completely debunked, and the river sturgeon argument washed away in the current. As a side note, I have enjoyed viewing several five-foot-plus sturgeon cruise the waters below the dam over the past few years during the May spawn.
During the height of the sturgeon crisis, the Northwoods did experience one of the worst droughts in decades. Despite the failed sturgeon strategy, the DNR supervisor “Jim” took it upon himself to illegally alter the dam operating orders during the peak of summer. This draining of the chain of lakes not only left hundreds, if not thousands, of up-dam property owners unable to access their docks and other shoreline structures, but also resulted in eliminating Clear Lake and Wild Rice Lake from navigation with the rest of the chain. This action also drained hundreds of acres of wetlands in backwaters and along Papoose Creek. Not long after this fiasco, the regional DNR supervisor of the project mystically washed away with the current transferred to western Wisconsin.
Throughout this recent history, the DNR has stood firm scheming to reach its endpoint of forever changing the operating order of the Rest Lake dam. Last year The Lakeland Times published a long expose describing the negative effects fluctuating water levels have on aquatic plants within the Rest Lake chain. Marine biologists I have talked with suggest this may prevent or at least slow the spread of Eruacian Mollfoil and other invasive species through the chain. At a minimum, the biologists recommend comparative studies of invasive species between the unique water fluctuations of the Manitowish Chain and other chains around the state. What would the DNR care of science? They have determined the endgame and arbitrarily decided that no further study, analysis, or even “Environmental Impact Statement will be needed.” The lack of integrity exhibited by the DNR for not preparing and publishing a complete Environmental Impact Statement is appalling.
The DNR also refuses to perform economic impact analysis or account for the thousands of properties that will sustain ice damage from these changes. No aeration system could prevent ice damage from occurring during a sever winter as we experienced last year. Moreover, the down-dam property owners are fortunate the proposed drawdown changes were not in effect this past spring. Late ice and heavy spring rains would have been devastating to the down-dam properties had the 10-lake chain not been able to accommodate such a deluge of water.
The most troubling part of the entire debacle is the role of the DNR. The DNR offers no scientific or published data to support environmental gains of changing the operating order of the Rest Lake dam. They minimize the impact to the up-dam property owners, and published pandering reassurances to reasonable questions and concerns raised during the “comments” phase of their so-called deliberations. They are selling us Obamacare with a “there, there, it’ll be alright” attitude. Most importantly, the DNR has wrongfully inserted itself in nothing more than a matter of water rights. With the wisdom of Solomon they have decided to side with the down-dam people. The up-dam people and their rights are brushed aside.
I believe this will end up in court. However, the two parties at odds here are the down-dam people and the up-dam people. Historically, this type of dispute predates America. The DNR may be called by either party for testimony and “scientific opinion.” However, the DNR inserting itself into this dispute at taxpayers’ expense is unethical and not within the duties and jurisdiction of this overreaching DNR. I ask Governor Walker and Mrs. Stepp to restrain the DNR from issuing any change to the current operating orders of the Rest Lake dam. I also request the “investigative” reporters of The Lakeland Times to research, publish and inform the readers on the track record of th DNR versus Individuals and/or citizen groups in litigation over the past five years.