7/14/2017 7:25:00 AM Boulder Junction Town Lakes Committee still looking for participation
Beckie Gaskill/Lakeland Times
Boulder Junction Town Lakes Committee organizer Dick Jenks addressed several area lake stakeholders at last weekend’s meeting regarding the benefits of creating a town lakes committee.
Another organizational meeting for a potential Boulder Junction Town Lakes Committee was held this past weekend at the community center. Again the meeting brought but meager attendance, but organizer Dick Jenks was encouraged by the fact that new lakes were represented at the meeting.
Ned Pierce from Trout Lake and Greg Logan from White Sand Lake were new to the meetings and came to learn more and express their feelings about a possible town lakes committee. Rolf Ethun, the chairman of the Winchester Town Lakes Committee, was also present at Jenks' request to speak regarding Winchester's successes and tribulations in the formation of their own town lakes committee.
The Winchester Town Lakes Committee started 15 years ago at the request of the town board. Ethun said it will take three things to get the Boulder Junction Town Lakes Committee going: commitment from the town board, buy-in from area lake associations and an understanding from the taxpayers or public about what a town lakes committee does and why one is needed, because tax dollars will be needed. He spoke about the economics of healthy lands and waters as well.
"The economic impact of the lakes and our forests, I mean, without it, Boulder Junction, Presque Isle, Winchester, none of us would even exist," Ethun said.
He said his biggest message for those in attendance at the meeting was to be patient and that it would take time. Throughout the meeting, he stressed patience and educating the public as well as lake associations regarding the need for a town lakes committee. He also urged the group to involve Carolyn Scholl and Quita Sheehan from the Vilas County Land and Water Department to come to a meeting to talk about the economics of water quality and put on the presentation they have recently updated. He thought this may generate more interest and get more people to attend a meeting.
"Leadership from lake associations is really, really critical," he said. "That's where the excitement comes from."
"There are a lot of people, unlike me, I live here all summer. I have a lot of time to deal with these kinds of things," said Dan Johnson from the High-Fishtrap-Rush Lake Association. Johnson lives on Fishtrap Lake. "Other people are only here for a week or two and a week or two there. They want to enjoy and recreate on their property. The last thing they want is to go to meetings like this and that's why it's hard to generate enthusiasm for things like this."
This was a concern the group talked about at the previous meeting as well. It was agreed that, while the committee may be open for any lake to be represented, there were simply lakes that would not get involved. All agreed cultivating as much interest as possible would be key.
'As far as regulating and so forth, that's not something we do'
In the Town of Winchester, Ethun said each lake gets one vote, regardless of the size of the lake. He noted this system works well in Winchester, but the Boulder Junction committee could structure itself any way it saw fit. Greg Logan wondered whether special consideration should be given to larger lakes.
"Trout Lake, then, would have the same vote as a 200-acre lake," Logan said.
"That's the way we do it in Winchester, but it can be structured differently," Ethun said. He suggested structuring the committee in a way that was seen fit for Boulder Junction. He also noted the feeling in the town is everyone looks at things collectively, rather than as an "our lake versus their lake" competition. With this collective attitude and concern for the area overall, rather than just looking at it lake by lake, the one vote per lake works well for that committee.
"But my concern is more regulation, more management," Logan said. "For instance, I've been down in Hazelhurst to a small lake, and I don't have a jet ski, but there's no personal watercraft after 5 p.m. People are just up in arms about it, but they pushed it through in February, you know, when no one is around, as that it was good for the lake. That's what I see. What may be good for Mann Lake, may not be good for White Sand and its owners."
He noted most riparian owners are not voting tax payers, and he did not want to add a committee to add to more management and more restrictions.
"If I can respond to that," Ethun said, "we've made a really conscious effort, and I know some of the others have too, Presque Isle, for instance, with effective town lakes committees, that we don't make any regulations. There have been times we've brought issues to the town board that have been brought to us. But as far as regulating and so forth, that's not something we do."
He said the committee did come up with a lake user courtesy guide, but it was only a guide, and did not have any regulation or ordinance attached to it. He said his committee faced these same questions as they were forming and brought to the public the fact they were not forming in order to create regulations or get ordinances passed.
"That's really not the role of a good town lakes committee," Ethun said. "Because that just creates more division and animosity. Instead of people saying this is for the benefit of the whole town, it starts to be an us against them type of approach."
He said the board got through all of that by taking time and educating people. Now, he said, some of the associations who didn't understand why they needed a town lakes committee are now some of the biggest supporters. He again stressed to not be discouraged by the limited involvement at the present time and to keep talking and educating people about the benefits of a town lakes committee.
Boulder Junction, for this year, has $9,000 available for those projects, and Jenks felt lake property owners, at 84 percent of the tax base, needed to be more represented in the town budget. A committee could work toward that end and create a request, with projects delineated each year, the amount of money needed in the budget each year.
Johnson again brought up the fact that, until the last meeting, he was unaware the town even had money available for projects lake associations wanted to undertake.
"One of the discussion points at the last meeting was the fact that it wasn't particularly transparent to us lake community people that there is money there and that it was getting distributed," he said.
"That's not true," Pierce said. "It's very transparent. All you have to do is come to the budget meetings and the town board meeting."
"You may be absolutely right on that," Johnson said.
"Charlie Spencer, when he was the town chairman, he started that," Pierce said.
"Right," Johnson said, "And the thing that irritated the hell out of me was the fact that Charlie Spencer's lake was the beneficiary of that money, OK?"
"Sure. Absolutely," Pierce said.
"And I think that is one of the benefits of having this committee in place," Johnson said. "One of the benefits is educating people that there are resources available and that the committee can act as an advisory panel to educate the board or whatever you want to call it, on what the best use of this money is. So that's a positive thing. I think everybody's concerned about the regulatory thing, and I don't think that was ever the intent of this committee. I think it was meant more as an advisory group."
"Right," Ethun said, "It's to give you an organization that can work together to make sure the lakes are protected."
'You're going to lose that'
"I have to say I'm probably not in favor of this, and I say that based on experiences I've had with groups of this type," Pierce said of the town lakes committee as the opinion of the Trout Lake Association. He spoke about his time as an engineer involved in environmental consulting and how he saw lake management plans sit on a shelf, never to see the light of day again, after they were created. He spoke about projects in which he had been involved that did "no good" for anyone and were a waste of money.
Pierce said, as an engineer, he was interested in the bottom line results and nothing else. He said his opinion is even Secchi disk readings do not provide any usable results, based on his background. He said results are the only thing he could look at and not "doing a bunch of studies and throwing them on a shelf somewhere."
"I just don't want to be fooling people into thinking we can do something that's tangible," he said in closing. "I'm not going to say there wouldn't be some results, because there would be, but from my perspective they would be marginal."
"So, you don't think there's a way for you and the Trout Lake residents to benefit from participating in the town lakes committee?" asked Jenks.
"Absolutely not," Piece said. "Nope. I would be opposed to that." He also questioned what the land and water conservation department was really doing to help the lakes. He was also opposed to more obtrusive regulations. "It happens. Somewhere along the line, they're going to get you. You can bank on it."
Pierce's discussion then turned to the Clean Boats Clean Waters program, with interns from UW-Oshkosh staffing the boat landings during high-traffic times. Jenks set this up for Trout Lake due, in part, to the finding of spiny water flea in Trout Lake. Jenks' association, the Friends of Mann Lake, actually hold the grant to help Trout Lake staff their boat landings.
"There's an issue with you all wanting boat landing inspection," Logan said in regard to the interns at the boat landings.
"We don't want it," Pierce said. "It's a waste. It came up in our get-together here a month ago. We've got a few decent landings, and we get some money through the UW or the Extension ..."
"That's going to end," Johnson said. "That's the point. You're going to lose that."
"We've got some kids from the University of Oshkosh ..." Pierce started.
"You need to walk away from this meeting understanding that is not in perpetuity," Johnson interjected. "You're going to lose that ability."
"Let me finish," Pierce said. "We've got these kids down to the landing, say they're there three days out of the week, maybe 20 days out of the month at the most. What happens to the boats that they don't see or inspect? It's a laugh. That's what it is."
"See, this is why this is going to go nowhere, you know," Johnson said to the group. "This kind of attitude is just - the biggest lake in the township ..." He was disheartened with so little buy-in from the community and declared it would be an exercise in futility if attitudes such as this persisted.
Town chairman Reuss stops in
Town chairman Dennis Reuss stopped in to the meeting near the end to sit in for a few minutes. When asked how he thought the board would like to proceed, he said he thought the board, at this point, may be looking for a proposal to be placed on a future agenda for their consideration.
"That's how we started," Ethun said. "It was directed by the board, and that's where Winchester started." Many agreed this may be the way the Boulder Junction Town Lakes Committee may have to start and evolve from there.
Reuss also expressed some concern over where the town's money was going as it sat now. Currently, each lake association comes to the board with their needs for projects and the board looks at each individually.
"We, as a board, no matter who the board is, get requests from lake organizations," he said. "They come in and make a presentation and request money. As a member of the board, and there's three of us, somebody comes up - is there follow through on what's being done with it? Not really. We write the check, but does it go to something that's really functional? Is it doing a good job? Is the money being spent right or does it just feel good to write the check?"
He is concerned, when spending tax payer money, how that money was ultimately being used. The feeling was a town lakes committee would help in that regard by directing the board to which projects were in need of town funding. He said he felt these requests would be becoming more numerous. He wanted more follow through, either from the board or from a committee.
"It sounds like this could be a positive feature," Johnson said.
"I think it would be, myself," Reuss said.
Jenks said he was looking to bring a presentation in to the chamber of commerce and the town board regarding the economic impact of lakes in the county as the conversation continued in the community. His hope was to involve the Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Department in that, bringing more attention to the contribution the town's lakes provide to the local economy. From there, he hoped budgetary decisions could be made with participation of an informed electorate.
"Every town around us has a town lakes committee," Jenks said. "Are they all wrong? Is this something we should be pursuing?" In the end it was decided plans to create a Boulder Junction Town Lakes Committee will move forward.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.