Commentary - Don't let lakes fall victim to fearTo Dave Rush, director, Douglas County Land and Resource Management, and all Douglas County commissioners: I am writing to you on behalf of the L’Homme Dieu Lake Association, of which I am a member and current president of the board.
Editor’s note: The following was submitted prior to the Douglas County Board’s decision to restrict boat access between Lakes Geneva and Victoria.
By Keith Dougherty, president, L’Homme Dieu Lake Association, Alexandria, MN
To Dave Rush, director, Douglas County Land and Resource Management, and all Douglas County commissioners:
I am writing to you on behalf of the L’Homme Dieu Lake Association, of which I am a member and current president of the board. Our board met and discussed the present county channel closure consideration. Upon unanimous vote of our board, we are taking the position that we oppose channel closure between any of the lakes on the existing chain of lakes.
Although we recognize the negative impact that zebra mussels can have and have had on other Minnesota lakes and rivers, we do not believe that such as extreme measure as isolating certain lakes within the chain would be justified, not when done with such little expectation of gain.
Channels between present zebra mussel infested lakes versus non-infested lakes within the chain are predominately short in distance and knowing that mussel infestation can occur by means other than through boat traffic, including via wildlife (on the backs of turtles, by water fowl, etc.), the proposal is in our opinion without merit, particularly when considered in context of the resulting sacrifice of present waterway travel freedoms.
The county is not presently proposing closure of public boat landing areas or public fishing piers on those lakes within the chain where such now exist, yet the spread of invasive species certainly occurs in these locations. Closure of channels will set a dangerous precedent whereby such public access/fishing areas will be next on the list for extreme control or removal. This can only further diminish public rights and benefits of living within this state.
Douglas County and the city of Alexandria advertise and represent their “chain of lakes” as a prime feature of the area and one of the predominant features of their claim to being a resort area. These features are meaningful and crucial for businesses, both tourist-based and otherwise. It is also a significant drawing card for residents seeking to relocate and/or to start new businesses in this area.
Further, the county relies heavily upon the tax dollars generated from property tax assessments upon property owners on the chain of lakes, lake frontage on the chain typically generating higher real estate market values, as any local realtor will confirm. I believe this is evidenced by present tax assessments in Douglas County, when comparing base rates for front footage of lakes on the chain versus those that are not.
Removing a link from the chain at any location and isolating certain lakes breaks the chain, removes the claim to fame of this area, diminishes property values, which hurts owners and the county (and to be sure owners will be arguing resulting diminished value to the county assessor), and perhaps most importantly, greatly restricts recreational use of the chain of lakes by state residents who are entitled to usage of these connected lakes as part of a system of public waterways.
It may be argued that the L’Homme Dieu board has a biased interest in this proposal in that L’Homme Dieu is already considered a zebra mussel infested water, and such argument can be expected. It is our position, however, that although perhaps presently individually affected by invaders such as these mussels, our lakes within the chain must continue to stand as a group, as we deal with, fight as best we can, and perhaps suffer with the latest invasive species that appears.
We cannot allow our lakes, which have been connected for decades and open to watercraft travel through the interconnections thereof, to now suddenly fall victim to cries of fear of the latest threat, thus allowing isolation of these lakes for perhaps the benefit of a few at the expense of many, especially not when such isolation is in exchange only for a gain that is questionable, tenuous and tentative at best. Allowing individual lakes to become disconnected from the chain due to fears of contamination from their adjoining lakes is akin to allowing states within these United States to secede from our nation due to dislike or fear of their neighboring state’s impact or effect upon their laws or policies.
We recognize the fears and concerns of owners on lakes within the chain not yet considered infested, and those concerns are valid and justified. Lakeshore owners alone, however, do not and should not dictate usage of the lake upon which they happen to own frontage. These are public waterways and restricting the public from usage of the same is against public policy, especially when there is no present public benefit assured as a result of the sacrifices now proposed.
It is our position that closure of any of the channels within the chain of lakes will result in a significant detriment to the area, recreationally and economically, much more so than having mussels in our lakes ever would. We fear the loss of present freedoms to travel between our lakes with the chain during our ever-so-short boating season, and we fear the economic impact to this community, both of which can absolutely be anticipated if channels are closed to boat travel. These fears outweigh our fear of the effects of zebra mussels within our lakes.
Other Minnesota lakes have them and lakeshore owners and lake users are learning to live with them. Living with the loss of freedoms presently provided by our chain of lakes, and with adverse economic impact resulting from such loss, will be much more difficult in our opinion.
We ask that you please consider carefully any plans to restrict public benefit and rights as you attempt to address fears of the latest invasive aquatic species.