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Wakesurfing boats create waves, property owners complain about damage

Wakesurfing is popular on some area lakes, but now lakeshore owners are complaining about the sport, arguing that the large waves generated by the specially designed boats are damaging shoreline and their property and calling for regulations.

"I suffered quite a bit of damage," Vern Lorsung, who lives on Lake Latoka, said during a Wednesday evening meeting of the Douglas County Lakes Association. "I lost 4 feet of shoreline. I never lost an inch before." He also had to spend $225 to fix a dock damaged after repeated hits by large waves, he said.

In wakesurfing, a large boat takes on water and rides low in order to create big waves for someone behind the boat to surf over the wake. The shallower the water, the easier it is to create big waves, and lakes Latoka, Victoria and L'Homme Dieu seem to be especially popular for the sport, said those at the meeting.

Doug Kuelbs, also a Lake Latoka homeowner, said a Jet Ski belong to his visitors was damaged while tethered to his dock. The waves from the passing wake boat pushed it under the dock, cracking its windshield. Young paddleboarders too have been intimidated by the large, specially designed boats.

One lakeshore owner said wakesurfers seem to mostly be those who visit the lakes on the weekends and they don't realize the damage their waves cause.

Lakeshore owners said they wondered about limiting the boats to at least 150 feet from shore. After all, some lakes allow only trolling motors, while other lakes have wake zones.

Sgt. Greg Windhurst, who oversees the water patrol for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, said clashes between wakesurfing enthusiasts and lakeshore owners have been occurring throughout the state.

"This isn't just Douglas County," he told the nearly two dozen lakeshore owners.

Regulating wakesurfing isn't so simple, said Windhurst and Dave Rush, Douglas County Land and Resource Management director. Any kind of regulation on area lakes must pass through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which would have to decide whether the action was reasonable.

"If they see it as an effort to exclude a user of the lake, they wouldn't deem it reasonable," he said.

Rather than creating a local regulation, Rush said, it might be easier to accomplish something statewide. He urged the lakeshore owners to talk to their neighbors to gauge the level of support for restricting wakesurfing boats, and then to urge lawmakers to pressure the DNR into taking action.

Another possible solution is to educate the public, using techniques developed for fighting aquatic invasive species such as signs encouraging boating etiquette, Windhurst said. The problem, he said, is that people are not behaving courteously or safely.

"You'll see it driving home, the same type of behavior," he said. "It transfers over to the water."

Education is challenging when trying to reach those causing the problem, Kuelbs said.

"You get very frustrated," he said.

In other news from the lakes association meeting:

• Justin Swart, county invasive species and shoreland technician, said that a volunteer search for starry stonewort in Douglas County over the weekend turned up nothing at 18 different locations.

• Some members felt an effort to create an environmental trust fund was gaining traction in Douglas County. The trust fund, funded by donations and taxes, would provide matching dollars when required for grants to improve local water quality.

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