County needs to do the right thing for all taxpayers
Property owners along Chelsea Lake should use care in an attempt to play hardball with the Taylor County Board over the future of the dam and management of the lake’s water level.
With an ever-increasing price tag and seemingly endless demands by property owners for the county to pick up most, if not all, the cost of raising the water level to historic high levels, lake property owners may find the county board majority that supported the dam rapidly dwindling. If pressed on the issue, it is an even money bet over whether the county board would stay the course with the planned replacement of the existing dam in two years, or simply vote to take advantage of the 100% grant funding available through the Department of Natural Resources to remove the dam.
The hard reality is that, at the board level, there is little to no political will to spend tens of thousands of dollars in general county tax dollars on additional shoreline studies and then hundreds of thousands more on the engineering and reconstruction of berms in order to have a chance for an incremental increase in the water level of the lake.
County officials should stick to their guns in insisting that any investment beyond the commitment to replace the existing dam occur only after the creation of a lake district. Lake districts possess governmental authority to borrow funds, apply for state grants and levy taxes to pay for lake improvement projects.
In June 2017, the Taylor County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a resolution taking ownership of the dam ending years of speculation about who was responsible for the dam and would ultimately have to foot the bill for any future repairs.
The dam was built and then rebuilt by members of the Chelsea Conservation Club in the 1960s. In 1993 there was county board action agreeing for the county to own the land the 175-foot earthen dam was on, but no transfer of ownership of the actual dam was ever recorded with the state.
For many years the dam existed in a state of limbo with the Department of Natural Resources, fresh off of having high profile and extremely expensive dam failures in the Wisconsin Dells, becoming increasingly agitated about the need for the regular inspections and ongoing maintenance of dams around the state.
The county board was sold on taking formal ownership of the dam in part based on a a low-ball estimate of $50,000 as the price tag for needed repairs. Engineering estimates have since put the project at about five times that level for just the replacement of the dam with no increase in the permitted water level.
While recognizing the value of Chelsea Lake as one of the county’s recreational gems, it would be an exceedingly hard sell for the county to scrap its current plans and start all over with only a chance that the water level could be increased.
In an often contentious meeting with the county board’s executive committee on Monday afternoon, Rod Mayer, speaking on behalf of a group of property owners, repeatedly called on the county to “do the right thing” in regard to ownership of the berms and other shoreline structures they claim are part of the dam.
Mayer is right. Taylor County does need to do the right thing. The county needs to do the right thing for Chelsea Lake property owners as well as all county taxpayers.
Taylor County should be a partner and not a patsy when it comes to working with lake property owners for future improvements.