Dick Jenks has been spearheading a push to create a Boulder Junction town lakes committee for months. Last week, he met with an interested group representing several lake associations in the town of Boulder Junction. Some were on board with the idea from the start while others were skeptical and did not see the need for a town lakes committee. The meeting centered on answering the question: Is a town lakes committee the way the group should go?
"At White Sand Lake, we discussed this at the meeting and it was a firm consensus that this isn't necessary, this committee," said Bill Brandt. "It's kind of a waste of board time and resources. We have a Vilas County Lakes Association, and it's just a lot of time for people spending on issues that don't seem to be requiring a group to address them. Plus, to me, it seems to have a quasi-governmental status. I think it's creating an organization to address a problem that doesn't really exist." He mentioned there was interest in a town lakes committee in 2009, but it died due to lack of support.
"I'm not so sure that it was deemed not to be necessary, but there was a lack of participation," Jenks said. "I guess it's an indication that, for whatever reason, the representatives of the various lake associations didn't want to be involved. Now, I might counter that all of the surrounding townships - Winchester, Presque Isle, Plum Lake - they each have very active town lakes committees."
"I would question that they have active committees," said Ned Pierce of the Trout Lake Association. Jenks said he had attended meetings of each town lakes committee to try to learn some best practices and he did believe they were doing good work. He said the town lakes committees have no power to create ordinances, which was a concern raised in the group at a previous meeting.
"I don't think this hurts," said Dan Johnson from High-Fishtrap-Rush Lakes Association. "If you don't want to join, participate, then don't. Forever hold your peace. There's money being spent in this town. There's money being taxed in this town, and I don't know who was here when I got on my soapbox the first time, but it's not particularly known how this money is being spent.
"Now, I don't think it hurts to have a committee weigh in on whether we think Gresham Lake should be the only lakes association to reap benefit out of the taxing authority," he continued. "My attitude is: if you don't want to do it, don't. This is voluntary. It's an exchange of ideas and experiences."
"What part of it is voluntary?" Pierce asked.
"You don't have to be here," Johnson said. "Trout Lake doesn't have to be here."
"Can I inject a point, what is the negative that ya'll are concerned about that just not participating is not enough?" asked Jim Cagney. "What's the concern that's underlying what you're saying?"
"I think the concern is that committees and organizations tend to grow and to exert power over member associations and it's just another growth of government or a quasi-government organization that then becomes a government organization and then tried to exert power over other associations," Brandt said. Cagney countered that he did not see it as a quasi-government organization. Brandt went on to speak about the Minocqua/Kawaguesaga Lake Association and its issues being faced and dealt with on its own.
"So, with those kind of problems, and those kind of issues going on, you think a group like this that would discuss what options are available is a negative?" asked incoming Trout Lake Association president Jim Pondel.
"I just think the town of Boulder Junction is not able to deal with that and many of the invasive species go through a cycle and get better on their own," Cagney said. "Or we certainly haven't learned to manage it."
"The point of it all, though, isn't these independent lakes, it's that you feel the town of Boulder Junction Lakes Committee will become a governmental body, which currently we have not given it any authority to do so," Pondel said.
"But things tend to grow," Brandt said.
"But so does the United Way," Pondel said. "This, to me, isn't a governmental agency. I'll just give you my perspective. I'm new to this. I'm about to walk into being the president of the Trout Lake Association come January, and I know nothing about this. And for a guy like me, who is re-injecting himself into these issues, who has been away for 30 years, I think I've got the abilities to make a difference, something like the Boulder Junction Lakes Committee would be invaluable."
Budgeting lake projects
The issue of the town's budget for lake projects came up in the discussion as well. The town, this year, budgeted $9,000 for lake projects. Jenks mentioned Dennis Ruess's appearance at the last organizational meeting. Ruess's concern was the town board's ability to follow up when a lake association asked for money for a project. With a 3-person board, it was impossible for them to have the time to follow up and ensure the money given out to lake associations had gone for a project with beneficial deliverables. In his opinion, a town lakes committee could serve in that capacity, he had said.
Still others felt the town did not need any additional expenses. If the lakes committee were to ask the town for more money in the budget, but the money simply could not be put toward those projects, Brandt said, it would be fruitless. He spoke about the multiple roads that needed to be fixed, stating if the town did not have money for road repairs, it was very unlikely they would fund lake projects at a higher level.
Part of town government or not?
There was a lengthy discussion regarding what the committee would do and whether or not it should be tied to town government. After an hour of discussion, Jenks felt it was time to call the question: should the town lakes committee be part of the town, or should it be a stand alone committee?
""If we would get better buy-in from the group here, by making this an informal, kind of like the Vilas County Lakes Association, not being tied in to town government, I would be in favor of that," Johnson said. "I think it's important we get everybody - White Sand, Trout Lake, and if that's the way to increase in interest and participation, then let's take the baby step and do this as a relatively informal group of people that are trying to collectively learn from each other and offer benefits to each other. We could work in this way for a couple of years and, if it doesn't die of its own weight, and it becomes much more effective in terms of dealing with the town board, or we're finding that it can't deal with the town board without being a formal committee, then maybe we take that next step."
He said it is important for all lake representatives to go into it with the right attitude and for the benefit of the town. He said people want to know where to go when there is a problem, and that is where the lakes committee could come in.
"When I came to the meeting today, I guess I had a pretty negative feeling about creating a town lakes committee," Pierce said. "Although, the wisdom I'm hearing here, I'm kind of changing my mind a little bit. But the question I have to ask, and I've been involved in lake issues since 1965, very deeply involved, and I have to ask what this committee is going to do on Day 1. What are we going to do?" He asked if the committee had the expertise to prioritize lake issues.
Pondel said he felt as though the committee would be a place for the board to turn to help the board decide, before giving money to a lake association, if that would be the best use of town funds. He mentioned language could be included in by laws precluding the committee from becoming a quasi-governmental agency that would do things such as create ordinances.
"What I would like to see is the committee just stay as a committee, not an official town entity," Pierce said.
There was more buy-in from the group for the committee to be a stand alone entity. Johnson was a proponent of the idea, saying he would love to share information from his lake association, such as its lake management plan. He mentioned putting that in depth plan into the library so other lake groups could learn from that plan as well. This type of information sharing, he said, would benefit the entire group.
"From my perspective there are a couple of realities," Jenks said. "For one, we are fortunate to live in a place where other people come to recreate. The other reality is only 14 percent of the people who are lake property owners are residents and can vote, or are here to participate in their lake association or see on a daily basis what the challenges of their lake are. They take it for granted that the lake is fine how it is. I am here for two weeks or a month and I want to recreate. I don't want to sit here in a lakes committee meeting."
"But when something goes wrong, they want to know where to go," Johnson said. "All of a sudden something goes wrong - something shows up in their lake. They want to know where to go."
There was a general consensus, backed by a vote, the committee should remain autonomous from the town, but that there was real value in forming the committee. The committee could be used not only in an advisory capacity to the town, but also to support and educate lake associations as well as owners of lake properties who may not have associations, but who are interested in keeping their lakes healthy. Jenks said a mission statement would be created for the group, which may be based largely off the mission statement of a lake association or the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association's mission statement. He also asked for representatives to send him a list of the biggest issues on each respective lake. Those issues could then be formatted into agenda items for the next meeting. The formal name of the Boulder Junction Lakes Committee would be determined at the next meeting as well. The next meeting date will be determined and publicized in The Times as well as advertised on the marquee outside of the Boulder Junction Community Center.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.