The town chairman for Manitowish Waters, John Hanson, would like some answers besides “No” from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
It’s with regard to reimbursement the town was to receive after its purchase in May 2018, of a new water patrol boat.
Early this year, the town was notified its reimbursement claim submitted after one boating season on the Manitowish Waters chain of lakes the boat is used to patrol was denied by the DNR.
The anticipated reimbursement from the DNR over the course of five years included money to be used for a payment of almost $7,000 on the $31,500 patrol boat.
The town’s claim was denied because the water patrol, using the new boat, didn’t issue a citation for every 16 hours spent patrolling, the DNR standard.
That was some of the information the town board went over during its March 2019 meeting.
Since that time, with the 2019 boating season in the books and no citations issued for a second year, town clerk/treasurer Dana Hilbert told The Lakeland Times
the town is so far out around $12,570 in reimbursement from the DNR.
“The problem with this boat is it’s so glaringly obvious what it is, nobody misbehaves when the boat’s there,” she said.
Not a quota system
The matter came up again during last week’s town board meeting.
“So, we have this nice, beautiful, black water patrol boat with ‘Police’ in large letters on the side of it,” Hanson said. “The minute somebody sees that boat, they behave just like angels.”
He then summarized what the situation was — the water patrol isn’t issuing the number of citations and warnings yearly needed to warrant, in the DNR’s eyes, reimbursement under the agreement the town has with the state.
“It’s not a quota system,” town supervisor Bob Becker said with a chuckle.
“But it’s not a quota system,” Hanson said, a little sarcasm in his tone. “So, I have gone around with the state a little bit on this over the course of this year and I’m not done with ‘em yet because I think that’s about the lousiest metric they could ever dream up for determining whether our water patrol services is a benefit to the residents of the state.”
Because of that, he said he’s been thinking the town should get the boat repainted.
“It’s black, it sticks out like a sore thumb and you have those big police letters on there,” Hanson said. “We’re just not gonna catch anybody.”
He stressed the idea wasn’t to go out there and catch somebody.
“But we’re kind of between a rock and hard place here,” Hanson said.
Becker said the boat reimbursement situation has been a topic of discussion at meetings of the town’s new water patrol committee, saying there are people who want the boat repainted or take the “Police” decals off of it.
“They (the committee) weren’t really in favor of that,” he said. “It was a general discussion ... it was the first committee meeting we had and people hadn’t been thinking about these things.”
Becker said the matter would be on the agenda for the next water patrol committee meeting, which was last night.
He said one point brought up at the first committee meeting is the boat is intended to be part of a safety patrol.
“The question for the DNR is ... we had no accidents,” Becker said. “One thing it does by people seeing that boat across the lake is it’s like seeing a cop car coming down a highway, they slow down awhile. When you see that boat across the lake, you don’t know if she’s got binoculars on you and people behave on that lake.”
Manitowish Waters resident Delp Schafer said he’s spoken up about the subject at other meetings.
“I’m right on Rest Lake,” he said. “I’ve been there for decades. That boat does work. It’s been a lot better on Rest Lake with that boat out there. It matters when they see the thing because they know there’s a patrol out there.”
Becker agreed with Hanson and said he also believes the problem is with the DNR and its criteria.
“If you issued three tickets and there’s five accidents, would we be happy?” he asked. “I’d rather have no tickets and no accidents.”
Becker said at one point, it was mentioned at a meeting the DNR was seen on Manitowish Waters area lakes six times during the summer of 2019.
“How many tickets did they write?” he asked. “Zero.”
“Like I say, the criteria’s lousy,” Hanson said.
“It’s hard to catch people in the act when you have a police patrol,” Becker said.
He said he’d have a water patrol committee report for the town board’s January meeting.
After last week’s town board meeting, Hanson said he has a feeling, based on some of the input at the town board meeting, the boat won’t be repainted.
His battle, he said, is going to be with the DNR to change its criteria.
“I haven’t been able to find out from them what other criteria they use for determining whether a municipality is eligible for reimbursement,” Hanson said. “Apparently, that’s the major criteria and that just doesn’t make sense.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]