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Channel decision was a disservice

By Steve Steinle (member of L'Homme Dieu Lake Association), Alexandria, MN

The public should be aware that the Douglas County Board on May 25 did a huge recreational and economic disservice to the Douglas County chain of lakes area residents, including particularly the lakeshore owners on lakes now cut off from our chain, by voting 3 to 2 in favor of closing the channels between Victoria and Geneva, and between Darling and Cowdry, to boat traffic.

The closings are effectively permanent, or until zebra mussels are found in these lakes (even though the DNR has already listed Victoria as zebra mussel "infested"). In order to reopen the channels in the future, should mussels be found, board action would be required to undue or amend the recent amendment to this county water surface use ordinance.

This action was taken for our alleged protection, apparently from small shellfish, which have already invaded many of the lakes on the chain and may already be in the lakes now isolated and cut off from our chain. The zebra mussels are undoubtedly a nuisance in the lakes they have invaded and where they have proliferated, but the nuisance factor is largely to the lakeshore owners who must deal with them on their shoreline, as the evil foreign terrorists attach to their docks and boat lifts.

Notwithstanding a vote by the Lake Victoria Association opposing the channel closures, and in spite of much opposition and outcry from Lake Victoria property owners and others, and including opposition from the L'Homme Dieu Lake Association, as backed by the Carlos Lake Association, the county saw fit to cut Lake Victoria, and consequently Lake Jessie, off from the rest of the chain. They did the same with Lake Cowdry, along with its own "mini-chain" from Darling. The Darling-Carlos channel was not closed and was not even proposed for closure, even though the DNR and the land and resources department admits that Darling is not yet infested.

Why the favoritism? One reason offered at the public hearing/county board meeting on May 25 by the DNR, was that there are thousands of boats that travel that Carlos-Darling channel every weekend. Would not logic then suggest that this is all the more reason to propose closing that channel as well, if the county and DNR truly believe that the invaders arrive largely by channel travel on boats as their primary "transport vector?"

Keep in mind however, that zebra mussels did not arrive in Douglas County by channel travel. They arrived by way of boats delivered by trailer to boat launch sites. Yet, channel closure, not public access closure, was the goal of the county here, for now.

The DNR argues that zebra mussels can be transported on the hulls of boats, yet they are leaving all of the channels open to small non-motorized boat traffic. They are also leaving the public landings on the lakes now isolated from the chain open as well. There is little funding to do lake access boat launch monitoring. So it seems that anyone giving any amount of thought to this channel closing proposal would have concluded that it would likely be ineffective. This would particularly be true with the Victoria-Geneva channel, which is a very short channel as compared to the Cowdry-Darling channel, and sometimes experiences "reverse water flowage." So one wonders, are there other county/DNR motivations for channel closures? Does this now set a precedent for isolating each of the lakes within the chain for whatever new reason, including whatever new invasive species that may arrive? Is there an intent on the county's part to save money that might otherwise be spent on channel dredging if channels were left open? Are these just the first of the "links" of our "chain" to be severed? Are residents of this county who rely heavily upon the local tourism industry, which promotes itself as the chain of lakes resort area, and whose livelihoods and economic survival are based on tourism, prepared for the loss of their chain?

Personally, as a home owner on Lake Victoria, I would prefer to live with zebra mussels than to lose the connection to our chain, which I paid for initially when purchasing our present home. We then improved that home, believing that expenditure in property on the chain was a sound investment for the future. We have now not only lost our freedom of boat travel for recreational boating, sight-seeing, fishing, visiting friends or neighbors on other lakes by water, and going for lunch at Bug-a-Boo Bay or Arrowwood, but we have lost countless thousands of dollars in property value because we have been cut off from the chain.

A great many people lost a great deal of privilege, rights, freedoms and property value on Tuesday, May 25, at the hands of a very few. Two of our board members, however, should be commended. They are board chair Paul Anderson and Dan Olson, who both voted against the proposal to close our channels.

Those board members who did not fully consider the ramifications of their swift action - Bev Bales, Norm Salto and Gerald Johnson - will need to answer to the people's wishes eventually, come their next re-election attempt.