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Channel decision divides residents

The restriction of motorized boat traffic between lakes Geneva and Victoria made big waves at Tuesday's Douglas County Board meeting.

The channel between the two lakes was closed off earlier this summer to help stop the spread of zebra mussels, which were found recently in Lake Geneva.

The channel is barricaded with heavy-duty steel cable and buoys. The barrier is meant to keep out motorized boats, but is still supposed to be accessible to non-motorized watercraft like canoes, paddleboats and kayaks.

Don Roesner, who owns a summer home on Lake Victoria, is angry with the county commissioners and feels the barrier put in place doesn't comply with the ordinance enacted by the commissioners.

He is concerned about safety and told the commissioners that he is a retired safety manager. His concerns are with kids or other people trying to get around the heavy barrier.

"It's the most unsafe situation I've seen on a lake in a long time," Roesner told the commissioners.

In addition to the safety issues, Roesner reminded the commissioners that when they adopted the ordinance, they said if water flowed from Geneva into Victoria, they would open the channel because the restrictions would be pointless. The zebra mussels would stream into the lake naturally.

Roesner took photos showing the water flow, which he said was from Geneva into Victoria. "Water does flow from Geneva into Victoria," stated Roesner, indicating that it happens under certain circumstances. "The photos unequivocally show that water flows from Geneva into Victoria. The point is moot."

After touting more reasons why the board should reopen the channel, Roesner asked the commissioners who voted to keep it closed to reconsider so the county could move on and "start spending money on useful projects."

Board Chair Paul Anderson said he knows this is a controversial issue and that the board wanted to hear from the public.

Although Tuesday's discussion wasn't a formal public hearing, Anderson opened the debate to the audience and asked for people to speak out either for or against the issue. He asked that audience members take turns speaking - one for it, then one against it and so forth.

Anderson also noted that he has received more than 100 e-mails about this issue and that because he believes in open government, the e-mails would be available to the public through the county coordinator's office.

Before anyone in the audience spoke, Commissioner Jerry Johnson asked whether or not the channel is properly marked.

Douglas County Attorney Chris Karpan explained that the situation is unique and that the Department of Natural Resources has approved the markers. He said it is marked to the DNR's specifications.

Those who oppose the channel closing feel the decision was too radical. Many of those who spoke were concerned about safety issues and about the value of their real estate because Lake Victoria has been regarded as part of the chain of lakes and with the barricades, there is no longer access to the chain.

Many said they were disheartened about the decision to close the channel.

Some residents who live on Lake Victoria feel there is now too much traffic on the lake. Summer residents are upset because they said boaters and Jet Skiers used to go to the bigger lakes and now they can't. They feel it's too much added traffic.

One resort owner said he couldn't comprehend the closing and said his customers were upset because they couldn't get to the chain of lakes now because of the barrier.

"I don't want zebra mussels but they are going to come anyway," he said.

As for those who are in favor of the channel restriction, their reasons included not having to have their children and grandchildren worry about having a polluted lake and not having to worry about hurting themselves when they walk in the water and step on the sharp zebra mussels.

"What are we going to give our future generations? A polluted lake," said one Lake Victoria resident. "Invasive species are a pollution."

Another property owner said that if the zebra mussels eventually get in Lake Victoria, then so be it, but why open the channel and help them get in there.

"I prefer to live on a clean lake with no zebra mussels," he said.

Most of the residents who were in favor of the channel restriction didn't feel it was a safety issue and that they want to keep Lake Victoria clean. Many said if they want to access the other lakes, they still can.

Another resort owner spoke up and said he doesn't feel the traffic on the lake has increased at all and he doesn't believe he has lost any business because of the restriction.

He's in favor of the restriction and said that as far as property value or resale value of a home on Victoria, not having zebra mussels in the lake should help.

"If I was a potential buyer and I had the choice, I would pick a clean lake with no zebra mussels," he said.

After a brief discussion by county board members and questions on whether or not the board could take any action on the issue at Tuesday's board meeting, a decision to table the discussion was approved, 5-0.

The board was informed that they could have voted to proceed with the proper steps to take action, which would include a public hearing on the issue.

During the discussion, Johnson said, "I can't see it [having zebra mussels in a lake] as a desirable thing."

Commissioner Norm Salto stated that he voted to put the channel restriction in place and to keep it closed.

He said that if it costs him the election [Salto is up for election this fall], it didn't matter.

"I am a staunch supporter of keeping the lake closed," he stated