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County restricts two lake channels

Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson The channel between Lakes Geneva and Victoria will be closed to boat traffic starting this week.

Despite more opposition than support, Douglas County commissioners voted 3-2 to restrict the channel access between Lakes Geneva and Victoria.

The commissioners also decided - in a 5-0 vote - to restrict boat access between Lakes Cowdry and Darling.

Commissioners Paul Anderson and Dan Olson voted against the action to restrict boats between Lakes Victoria and Darling.

The channel between Lakes Cowdry and Darling will be marked at the upper-most part of the channel where the water leaves Lake Cowdry.

The channel between Lakes Geneva and Victoria will be restricted on the Lake Geneva side.

The county fully expects the restrictions to be put in place by the end of this week.

The commissioners' meeting room was full and law enforcement was on hand during the public hearing portion of Tuesday's regular county board meeting.

Although the discussion was heated at times, law enforcement officers were not needed during the hour-long public hearing.

Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush began the hearing with a presentation on zebra mussels, which was similar to the presentation given at two recent public meetings.

Rush talked about the zebra mussel problem, which began last summer when they were discovered on Lake L'Homme Dieu. Since that time they have been found on the north end of Lake Geneva, the south shore and eastern shore of Lake Carlos and pretty much all of Lake L'Homme Dieu.

Even though the mussels have not been found on other lakes, a total of seven county lakes have been designated as infested waters because they are part of the chain of lakes system. They include L'Homme Dieu, Jessie, Victoria, Geneva, Carlos, Darling and Alvin.

Rush explained that his office received a letter from three property owners on the chain who were opposed to the channel restrictions. He also received a letter from the L'Homme Dieu Lake Association, which was also not in favor of the channel restrictions. The association felt the restrictions were not warranted.

And although the city of Alexandria has no authority on the issue, it supported the channel restrictions. When Rush was done with his presentation, people at the meeting had a chance to voice their opinions.

While there were more people who opposed the channel restrictions - especially the Lake Geneva, Lake Victoria restriction - there were some who favored it.

The majority, however, were opposed to the idea.

The president of the Victoria Lake Association, Peter Koel, said the association's board voted 3-2 to oppose the channel restrictions. The L'Homme Dieu Lake Association voted unanimously to keep the Victoria/Geneva channel open and was supported in this effort by the Lake Carlos Association.

An Alexandria Township board member explained that the board was first opposed to the channel restrictions, but then voted to not take a public stand on the issue. The board member indicated, however, that most of the board said to give the restrictions a chance.

A member of the lake association for Cowdry, Stoney, Taylor and Union noted that the board recommended to approve the channel restriction between Lakes Cowdry and Darling.

A real estate agent was not in favor of the channel restriction for Lakes Victoria and Geneva and shared her concern for property values.

Another member of the L'Homme Dieu Lake Association was fervently against the closing of the channels, especially the one between Lakes Geneva and Victoria.

He said restricting access between those two lakes would mean the property owners would be deprived of their freedom and that businesses rely on the access to the chain of lakes.

Outwardly upset, he said if the county approved the restrictions, it would be setting a bad precedent.

A resident on Lake Victoria explained his frustrations and said there have been a lot of inconsistencies and that the decision to restrict the channels would make "absolutely no sense."

A resort owner on Lake Victoria shared his appreciation to Nathan Olson from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who has been working diligently on the zebra mussel issue. He indicated that two resort owners on that lake are in favor of the restriction and called it a "no brainer." He thanked Olson and the county for all the hard work that has been done on this issue.

After a lengthy discussion, Commissioner Norm Salto recommended to restrict the access between Lakes Cowdry and Darling. Commissioner Bev Bales seconded the motion. All five commissioners voted in favor of restricting boat access between these two lakes.

After a little more discussion, Anderson asked the commissioners, "Do you wish to close the channel between Victoria and Geneva?"

Again, Salto made the motion to approve the restriction and Bales seconded it. "We only have one chance here," Salto said. "I am environmentally pro-active and we need to do something."

Bales expressed sympathy for the people who live on the lakes where the restrictions will be, but she said, "We have to take the heat on this. This is a tough decision, but this is the right thing to do."

Commissioner Anderson said, "I am totally opposed to closing the channel. We will accomplish nothing by closing it."

Commissioner Olson, whose constituents live in the Geneva/Victoria area, said, "This is a tough one for me because of the majority of comments. How do you choose? It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation."

Salto, Bales and Jerry Johnson voted to restrict the Geneva/Victoria channel and Anderson and Olson voted against it. The motion passed.