Committee won’t consider changes to Chelsea dam plan without a lake district
Unless property owners agree to set up a lake district, members of the Taylor County Forestry committee on Friday said they were unwilling to look at expanding the county dam project on Chelsea Lake.
At the October 9 forestry committee meeting, chairman Chuck Zenner presented information from a meeting held between county representatives and lake property owners on Sept. 24.
With the dam replacement project delayed due to the county being unsuccessful in getting grant funds, lake property owners are renewing their calls for the county to take over ownership and maintenance of dikes along the shoreline and raise the water level to what it was when the county took over ownership of the dam in 2017. At the meeting where the county approved taking over the dam, county board members specifically acted to exclude the dikes.
Because the dikes were never under any Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permit or on any type of record, the DNR has considered them parts of the natural shoreline. Some property owners would like to see that changed and have the county take over maintenance of the areas and use that to petition the DNR to raise the water level. Forest administrator Jake Walcisak reported the results of a survey completed by 19 of the 23 lake property owners including the town of Westboro and the county in regard to operation of the lake, the interest in raising water levels and their willingness to contribute to the expenses.
According to Walcisak, the survey shows that while 79% of the respondents felt the water level before county ownership met their needs, 58% responded that the current level meets their needs. The margin becomes closer when the town and county responses are taken out of the survey with nine OK with the current water level and eight unhappy with it. Even more telling is the response to a question of if they would be willing to contribute through a lake district or special assessment to increase the water level. To that question five were yes, including the county. Nine were opposed to the idea and five, including the town of Westboro, were undecided.
A lake district is a formal government entity with representatives from the lake owners and the local municipality. The district would own the dam and have the authority to levy taxes on the lake district in order to pay for upkeep of the dam and other projects. This differs from a lake association, which is a voluntary organization and people make contributions. Lake districts are eligible for state dam grants but lake associations are not.
Taylor County and the forestry committee specifically have long gone on record supporting the creation of a lake district even going so far as offer to cover the legal fees needed to set it up. If the district was formed, the county, which owns shoreline at a county park there, would be responsible for a share of the expenses.
“I am not comfortable with doing anything on our own,” said committee member Mike Bub to the suggestion the county should take over the dikes and raise the water level. Committee member Gene Knoll agreed reiterating his support for the county covering the fees to set up the district.
Walcisak said he did not think there was the 51% of the property owners around the lake who would support creating the district. He said in order for it to happen, the county would have to convince all the people who were undecided to be in favor of it. “Every single ‘maybe’ would have to become a ‘yes,’” he said.
“It sounds like we don’t have a deal,” Knoll said.
Committee member Gary Beadles noted that if the county had gotten the grant money for the dam, this would have been a done deal with the work starting. Zenner agreed, noting the two years has made it resurface again.
“I am getting tired of looking at this on the agenda,” Beadles said.
“If a lake district is formed we will pay our fair share, but not beyond that,” Zenner said. The county remains committed to replacing Cheslea Dam and keeping the water level at the current permit elevation of 1,531 feet.
In other business, committee members: Approved an ordinance regulating tree stands in the county forest. The ordinance mirrors state regulations and is very similar to the rules for use of tree stands in the national forest. It was revised because there was concern that under the previous rules some tree stands were damaging trees in the forest. Under the county ordinance, as under state law, tree stands must be identified with the owner’s name and address or DNR number. Any tree stands left on public land are done so at the owner’s risk and could potentially be removed or used by another hunter.
“It would be a pretty ballsy move,” Walcisak said, noting that hunter etiquette as taught in hunter safety courses is to respect it as someone else’s property and not touch it.
The ordinance will go to the full county board for approval later this month.
Approved a new chainsaw safety policy for the county forestry department provided the county is within its authority to purchase the necessary safety boots. “I want the guys to be safe, but I want to follow the rules,” Bub said. The hesitation was over concerns that in providing safety boots for one department, if this would open the door to other departments wanting similar specialized items. Cut resistant boots run between $340 and $360 per pair. Walcisak said they are a specialized piece of equipment similar to the chaps and helmet with face shield that the county already provides.
The need for the policy came out of a safety audit conducted on the county and was largely adopted from what is in place at the DNR. Other changes from the audit include the need for fire extinguishers in the county vehicles.
Approved the Taylor County Forest Annual work plan for 2021. This is a required plan for the county to continue to receive grant funding that helps cover staff wages.