River enforcement issues brought up
Sheriff hears from Fremont residents
By Greg Seubert
Too much enforcement or not enough?
That’s one of the issues the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office is dealing with when it comes to patrolling the Wolf River, particularly the stretch that flows through and around Fremont.
More than 30 people showed up Aug. 18 at the Fremont Village Hall for a listening session with Sheriff Tim Wilz and two members of his department, Sgt. Dan Lewinski and Capt. Todd Rasmussen.
Wilz organized the session after he started getting calls from area residents.
“I had over 12 people call me on a busy weekend with multiple concerns,” he said. “None of it was not enough patrol. It was always too much patrol. We sat down and decided we would have a public forum and see what the outcome is.”
Problems on the river that came up at the meeting include noise, speed and vandalism, including damaged buoys. Some people at the session also said there was too much enforcement at times.
“I was surprised that buoys keep getting run over,” Wilz said after the meeting. “I didn’t realize the noise was an issue with some of the folks here. We’re all community partners. We want to educate and change behavior.”
Staffing is an issue for his office, especially for its Water Patrol, which enforces boating laws on Waupaca County’s rivers, lakes and streams. Lewinski oversees the Water Patrol, which also patrols the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes.
The sheriff’s office contracts with the state Department of Natural Resources to provide the service, according to Lewinski.
“Some of our requirements once we’re accepted is 80 hours of patrol not on one body of water, it can be any body of water in the county,” Lewinski said. “That’s all we’re obligated to do to meet the requirements for the grant for the entire year. We work well over 80 hours. I believe last year we were at about 1,000 hours for the Wolf River. This year, we’re pushing close to that as well.”
“The staffing issue comes from first of all, no one wants to be in law enforcement anymore,” Wilz said. “Those who do are looking for full-time work vs. a part-time wage. That’s where we’re losing them.
“We have to be here and we’ll continue to contract with the DNR,” he said. “We just hope we can fill the vacancies we have. If not, we’re going to have to start utilizing full-time officers.”
Public input requested
Wilz said he and his staff wanted to hear from the community.
“The way we enforce the waterways, whether it be right or wrong in your mind, we want to know what you folks want here in Fremont and as far north as New London,” he said. “We just want to know what you want from us or what your expectations are as far as the enforcement goes. We will tell you what our expectations are to protect the community.”
Former village president Dan Sambs said he has heard complaints in the past about noise from some boats.
“We do have a sound reader that we can utilize,” Lewinski said. “If that’s becoming an issue, we can get that out and look at that problem a little more. I would like an open line of communication with you guys on the river so we can address the issues.”
“I just can’t believe it hasn’t been looked at more,” Sambs said. “It’s unbelievable. It needs to be enforced. They don’t need to come up here with their pipes wide open or even when they’re just idling though town and revving them up for the people at the bars and stuff like that. It’s totally out of hand with the noise from the engines.”
Mike Wilsman also spoke about noise problems he and his wife Liz have encountered at their home on the river south of Fremont in Winnebago County.
“The noise is terrible,” he said. “Go ahead and get the guys who are speeding. We can’t carry on a conservation on our property because of the noise.”
Judy Johnson is vice president of the Tri-County Powerboat Alliance, a group that works to preserve the Wolf River system from New London to Lake Winnebago while maintaining its navigability and accessibility.
“I personally appreciate seeing you guys on the waterway,” she said. “When we’re sitting on our deck and seeing what’s going on, it isn’t that difficult to find someone who’s looking for a ticket. If you’re looking for a ticket, a ticket will find you. If you haven’t instructed your crew properly about what the basic etiquette is on a boat and how to mind your manners out there, as a captain, you are going to have a problem with that.”
“We’re going to take it back and discuss with administration the issues that came up tonight,” Wilz said. “We’ll speak to our Water Patrol guys, we’ll have a meeting with the DNR and then we’ll figure out exactly how to enforce the waterways from this day forward.”
“We recognize that the community at large – the business owners here – depend on this being a resort town,” Johnson said. “We want to welcome visitors to the area, especially well-behaved ones.
“If you can go to the Hotel Fremont or the Bridge Bar in January, it’s because they had business here in the summer,” she said. “We have to appreciate what being so busy in Fremont here this time of year brings to the community. These are taxpayer dollars coming into our community supporting our schools and other things.”