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3/14/2017 7:29:00 AM
Broadband, cell service, affordable housing themes at Manitowish Waters candidate forum
Broadband, cell service, affordable housing themes at Manitowish Waters candidate forum
Nearly 100 gathered at the Manitowish Waters Community Center on March 8 for the 2017 Candidate Forum moderated by Eric Johnson of the FYI Northwoods. Candidates fielded questions from the public during the 90 minute forum.
Nearly 100 gathered at the Manitowish Waters Community Center on March 8 for the 2017 Candidate Forum moderated by Eric Johnson of the FYI Northwoods. Candidates fielded questions from the public during the 90 minute forum.

Evan Verploegh
Features Reporter


Nearly 100 residents gathered on March 8 to hear town board candidates share their thoughts on how to best serve Manitowish Waters. Anchored by recent disagreements between members of the public, board, and other town committees, the forum held an added layer of intrigue for those in attendance.

Barry Hopkins, owner of the Pea Patch Saloon, is the lone person challenging John Hanson for the Manitowish Waters town chairman position come April. Hanson has served in his position for 16 years. Mike Kramer and Bob Becker are both up against incumbents Eric Behnke and Chuck Rayala III for the two town supervisor spots.

Moderated by Eric Johnson of the FYI Northwoods, the forum stayed on schedule as Johnson held firm in keeping candidates in their allotted speaking times.

Following opening statements by each candidate, the forum moved quickly into a Q and A session from questions formulated by the public. Each was limited to two minutes to respond to the often compound questions.



Recreation

First on the question set regarded the construction of designed ATV/UTV trails in Manitowish Waters. Despite being a growing recreation activity, each candidate did not believe it was feasible due to the area's high lake, river and wetland prevalence. Each candidate did appear open towards a ATV/UTV trail system if one could be sensibly implemented, but none saw that capability in the near future.

The ever-reported issue of the bike trail system reared it's head next. The question was framed to gain a stance on trail development in the Highway 51 corridor, south of Powell Road in Manitowish Waters. Secondly, the question pressed on the proposed bike trail moving through the woods along Tower Rd. to connect to the Mercer trail system.

"It's doable," Hanson said, in relation to trail development south of Powell Rd. "As far as the loop trail system that has been proposed, I support that. It provides a very easy link to the Mercer trail system. Going through woods along Tower Rd. would have very little environmental impact."

Hopkins said he is stoutly against the proposed town bike trail loop which would cross both Hwy. 51 and the Manitowish River. He believes Tom Joseph's recent proposal of a trail system adjacent to the North Lakeland Discovery Center is a better option.

"There is an alternate loop to consider out there that would give people the chance to make a loop in Manitowish Waters, it would drive people into the Discovery Center, which is a great resource to this town," Hopkins said.

Both Behnke and Rayala said the alternate loop should be considered, while questioning additional development south of Powell Rd. Becker made a point to say he is firmly against trails that run alongside roadways, due to safety concerns. Kramer said he is for the town loop that crosses the Manitowish River, believing it would help promote downtown businesses.



Broadband

There was no debate in the need for improved broadband and cell phone service. Each candidate said they understood the role it played in encouraging longer stays for tourists and promoting younger generations to live and work in the area.

"The way to approach it is to work with providers. It's not something that we can do as a town. We're not going to pay for new towers. That would be a very large expense to the town, but we can contact and work with providers to discuss possible locations and analyze the demand," Behnke said.



Opportunities for youth

Many ideas were thrown around stemming from the question "what can we do to create more opportunities for our youth?" The topic of facilitating a welcoming environment for youth has been a hotbed issue in the Northwoods and each candidate offered their own opinion on how to best tackle it.

"Our community has some of the best parks and recreation in the area," Kramer said. "There is an opportunity to sponsor activities and events that get kids out on the trails."

Hopkins said keeping people employed year-round can be detrimental towards facilitating young people to live and work in the area. Being a tourist-run economy, he said keeping up a strong winter trail system for snowshoeing, cross country skiing and snowmobiling is key towards keeping the town active in the less visited months.

High speed internet, adequate day care accessibility was also touched on by Hopkins.



Affordable housing

Economic development and affordable housing were given as key components by Behnke. While not supportive of town-developed housing, he said working with "entrepreneurs and developers" to create opportunities for housing development is the best solution.



Contention at town meetings

Contention at town board and town committee meetings was one of the final points of the evening.

"I would not deny that the relationship between myself and my two fellow board members has been rocky in the last couple years," Hanson said. "Should I be elected again, that would be something to work on. We have to respect each other and respect our positions. There was a meeting in February where my leadership was questioned, and I don't think that's appropriate at a town board meeting. We have to work through those things and get back together if we intend to move Manitowish Waters forward."

Rayala said an open government and transparency is the best way to connect with the public and keep relationships between public officials strong. Becker said debating should not be a commonplace in meetings, but listening and thoughtful reaction should be regular procedure.

Behnke said while he believes things are getting better, he had some biting words in relation to the democracy of the town board.

"We have made on the town board, on a 2-1 vote, and our chairman has stood up and said, 'I might go in a different direction'," he said. "That's not leadership, folks. We need leaders. We need people who can bring people together. We need to bring the town board together and we need to compromise."



Uihlein

Multi-millionaire and regular Manitowish Waters donor Elizabeth Uihlein was the subject of the final question of the evening. The question centered around ensuring the town government is in control, in the wake of the millions of dollars Uihlein has given for town projects.

Each candidate seemed supportive of the funding Uihlein has offered in the past, but several addressed concerns that it may result in too much influence.

"I think in one or two instances I believe the donor (Uihlein) made too many decisions without consulting the town," Hopkins said.

"She's done some great things," Rayala said. "I think it's both a learning experience for her and the town board. We're getting through it and it seems like everything has been working a lot smoother as of late."

Becker said control needs to remain firmly in the hands of the town, but said the donations have greatly enhanced the look, feel and resources of Manitowish Waters.

"I'm very supportive of the things that Miss Uihlein has done for the town," Kramer said.

Hanson said he has worked alongside Uihlein for "13 or 14 years," and said things have generally been resolved when conflicts arise.

"I think we're in much better shape due to the donations not only from Liz, but from all the people that have donated to the Town of Manitowish Waters," Hanson said.

The candidates were then left to give their closing statements to the large crowd that gathered at the Manitowish Waters Community Center. Elections for the positions of Town Chairman and two Town Supervisor spots will be conducted on April 4.

Evan Verploegh may be reached via email at everploegh@lakelandtimes.com.



Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Article comment by: Linda Nidetz

Barry Hopkins personal agenda against the good Liz Uihlein for the Town of Manitowish Waters is disgusting. Her donations to our town are commendable. Also, she employs many Manitowish Waters citizens and provides them with a good salary with excellent benefits. She is a great role model. Thank you.



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