The Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Committee held a special meeting last week to discuss two grant applications that would be forwarded on to Lumberjack RC&D for possible approval.
The first application came from Trees for Tomorrow for the amount of $9,700. Trees for Tomorrow was looking to do work in several areas, one of which is on its Forest and Wildlife Loop Trail. The project would include building a 150-foot boardwalk, four-feet wide, over a wetland area. They will also replace two culverts. Those two culverts are currently nothing more than 4-inch PVC pipes and easily become plugged with debris. Those would be replaces with 10-inch galvanized steel pipe with mesh ends to keep debris out of the culverts for better drainage.
The forest service, they said, also deemed several trees dangerous, and those trees would need to be taken down. Part of the Lumberjack grant would pay for the purchase of a wood splitter to split those trees, once cut down, into pieces usable in the various fire places throughout the facility used to help with heating. All parts of the project would be completed by July, at which time Trees for Tomorrow would have a grand re-opening of its trail system, inviting the public to make use of those trails as well.
After a short discussion regarding the benefits of an entity like Trees for Tomorrow and several committee members giving them kudos for the work they do, the vote was unanimous to send the committee's recommendation on to Lumberjack with the grant proposal.
Second grant proposal
The next grant proposal application would ultimately not see full support from the committee, although many saw the merit in the project. This project was brought forth by Vilas County conservation specialist Quita Sheehan. Lumberjack funding for this project would total $7,250. UW-Eau Claire would be contributing $2,000 to cover the cost of a summer intern. Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association (OCLRA) would also be making a donation of $275 to cover the costs associated with publications that would come as deliverables from the study.
The project looked to study property values and their relation to water clarity in Oneida and Vilas counties. Studies such as this have been done in other states and in other parts of Wisconsin, she said, so it is already understood that water clarity and changes in that clarity have some affect on property values, but the study would allow for a more precise picture of that change specific to this area. A complex model would be created, factoring out all other variables, using Secchi disk readings over the last 20 years, which are recorded in the Surface Water Integrated Monitoring System (SWIMS) database. Those would be compared to lakefront property values and the changes in those two variables, water clarity and property values, over time would be used as the basis of determining how one affects the other. This would give people and businesses in the area a clearer view of how water clarity can have a much larger effect by affecting the tax base.
"I don't know how I can support this," town supervisor Carolyn Ritter said. "First of all, as I read through this, the work has already been done in other areas. I don't think there's a question in people's minds, that water clarity has an effect on property values. But I struggle with property values because values are set by the local assessor and it uses a lot of things to set it. Water clarity is only one of these things."
Ritter also said that, with water clarity changing throughout the year, she did not believe water clarity could be tracked efficiently. "That kind of makes this meaningless for me, because it's going to change."
"That's true," Sheehan said. "But if you look at a lake that has, on average, six feet of water clarity, versus Black Oak Lake that has, on average 30 feet of water clarity, over time, the model that Dr. Kemp has produced tries to take out all of the other variables and focus on the effects of water clarity."
She said it is not May versus June, because it looks at an average water clarity over time but, water clarity of six feet versus 20 feet.
Ritter went on to say that property values, set by the assessor, are different from property sale prices. If a number of properties sell at a lower rate, she said, that may have some affect on property values, but it would only be slight. She also took issue with the number of lakes that would be involved in the study, saying it only amounted to three to four percent of lakes in the two counties. To her, this was not a sufficient enough sample to make a reasonable inference of the effects of water clarity on property value.
Sheehan explained the number of lakes was not yet set, nor were the particular lakes. There were a variety of parameters each lake would have to fit within in order to be part of the study. She agreed that while real estate value and property value are not one in the same, they do influence each other.
"How long will this study be good for?" Ritter asked. "Are we looking at something that has value for two years? Three years? I'm weighing the amount of money we're going to spend with how much - and what are we expecting people to do with this information?"
"Once the data is collected for Vilas and Oneida counties, dealing with our specific set of circumstances, that math is already done," Sheehan said. "That model is built. Then we can continually update it. That would be an easy thing to do."
She went on to say they would use the information to help educate riparian owners on the importance of things such as shoreland restoration.
"The supposition here is that Dr. Kemp will work to prove that water clarity impacts the value of property," committee member Holly Tomlanovich said. "While I agree water quality probably can do that, I also feel that other things, there are other contributing factors. And I don't see in the study that the other contributing factors are going to be included."
Sheehan said the idea behind the study was to remove the other variables to determine the effects of water clarity alone on property values. She likened it to comparing "apples to apples" rather than "apples to oranges."
"We are looking for information that supports what we already know, that property values decline with declining water clarity," Sheehan said. "But when decisions are being made on all government levels, on zoning issues or farmland issues, or anything that affects water quality, it should matter in those decisions."
"I can see where we don't specifically know specifically what the result will be in terms of property value," committee member Marv Anderson said. "And I'm not so concerned about that. I think of Lost Lake District. This would be good to know, so we could share that with our property owners. I can see the benefit to a tool that is not there today that we don't have the intuitive knowledge to say we can figure this out. This is tax dollars at work, of course, you're not asking for county dollars other than in-kind, 40 hours of your time (Sheehan). This is the right thing to do for what you folks (The Land and Water Conservation Department) do on behalf of the property owners here in Vilas County. To say, we're going to give you more information about what this effect of water clarity and water quality can do and may do, and you deal with it now. I think this is a good idea."
"Anything more we can learn about our lakes and waters up here, it's just a good thing," Vilas County Board supervisor Denny Nielsen said. "It's just so important to us up here. Anything we can do to help, I think it's important to do. It's Quita's job. It's our committee's job."
"If we (the county) were looking at this to fund within our budget, there would be all the things I would be agreeing with, with you (Ritter)," chair Kim Simac said. "For me, I do agree that the Lumberjack board is going to have a lot to look at, but I do think they are the people who know more than me, at this level, and this will be something they decide has enough merit to bypass something like the Trees for Tomorrow proposal or not. But if we don't really have, we have 40 hours of Quita's work in it, but it's something you're passionate about and it's in line with your job description. I would support it under those terms."
In the end, the committee voted 4-4 in favor of passing on a favorable recommendation to the Lumberjack board. The grant proposal needs to be sent to Lumberjack by Oct. 1.
North/South Twin Lakes District public hearing
In other business, the committee set the public hearing for the North/South Twin Lakes District formation. The meeting will be held in the new Vilas County Boardroom at 5 p.m. on Oct. 9.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.