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Wake ban moves Forward

The Dayton-Farmington joint public hearing about wake boating on the Chain O’ Lakes was another packed house. Multiple residents shared their opinions for and against this kind of recreation. James Card Photo

Debate in Dayton

By James Card

The Dayton Town Hall was standing room only on June 19 for a public hearing about an ordinance to restrict artificial wake enhancement on Round, Rainbow and Columbia Lakes.

This hearing is a culmination of multiple meetings on the subject that started this winter. Since both townships share common waters, the two boards came together this spring to write a shared ordinance and to host a shared public hearing.

The previous meetings held by both townships were the same as this one: a packed room, TV news crews and a vocal majority of residents who believe boats that are designed to make extra large wakes do not belong on the Chain O’ Lakes.

Wake boats create waves large enough for a person to surf behind them. The waves also cause shoreline erosion, create hazards for other boaters, churn up the lake bottom and disrupt fish habitat.

Dayton Town Chair Jeff Barlow led the joint-township meeting. A copy of the ordinance was available for all who attended. Here are a few noteworthy points of the ordinance:

  • The ordinance may be enforced by any law enforcement officer in Wisconsin.
  • A key phrase described boats operating in a “bow-high manner,” meaning the wake boats do not plane but rather plow through the lake like a large water-displacing wedge. The wording also prohibited the use of items such as ballast and hydrofoils that force the boat to move in a “bow-high manner.”
  • The ordinance also noted waterskiing, tubing and the brief transition of a boat getting on plane were not in violation.
  • Fines: $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second offense within one year.
  • A summary of the ordinance shall be posted at all public access points to the lakes.

Opinions voiced

Casey Plunkett, president of the Spencer Lake Association, was the first to speak and he noted 700 people supported the ordinance in a petition that was later provided to both boards. He said he believes that represents “the will of the people” and it is composed of all kinds of people, not just lakefront property owners.

Laura McGourthy opposed the ordinance. “I don’t think that people who don’t have property on the Chain have any place in what we should be doing with our Chain and its unnecessary to have them speak and get their opinion as to what should be done on the lakes where I own property,” she said.

McGourthy said that wake boat owners operate in a safe manner and no owner has ever been given a ticket by the sheriff’s water patrol. She said the recent erosion many people have noted was not caused by wake boats but by other boats because the water is too shallow in some of those areas.

She noted that she spends $350 per tank of gas (filled twice in a weekend), $1,500 in storage fees per season, and $1,200 for a weekend’s food and drink contributes to the local economy.

Cheryl Fielkow shared her experience with wake boats during a family outing. “A huge wave came down and all of the glass in our boat shattered. I bounced up and down and almost fell out. I ended up with a bad back injury and had physical therapy. Luckily, our kids and my husband nothing happened to them. The glass went all over us,” she said.

“I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on the environment of these lakes because there are no lakes like these,” said Colleen Sponberg who supported the ordinance.

Lori Burton keeps a boat on the Chain O’ Lakes. “It’s very hard to identify a wake boat especially when you are behind it. It looks like any other boat trying to get a skier up. By the time we figured it out, our boat was crashing into the water because we had to move out of the way because they don’t go fast. They are way slower. By the time we got up to the boat, we had to make an evasive maneuver and ended up going over a large wake and we were all drenched. It happened again this last weekend. They are not the average wake left behind by a ski boat. We are very lucky to have what we have here. I would hate to see that destroyed by people who don’t know what is out there and how they can be injured so quickly,” she said.

Tim Cramer, president of the Stratton Lake Association, said a year and half ago the association members voted unanimously to make a recommendation to the town of Dayton to implement a wake-boating ordinance. He thanked the board for moving forward on the issue.

“It’s important to follow the science. The science is very clear. It’s environmentally correct to make this move, from a safety perspective it’s correct to make this move so all of the public from anywhere in the United States can come in and enjoy the lakes whether you pay taxes or not,” he said.

Jim Clark, the CEO and president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, also opposed the ordinance. The Georgia resident and lakefront property owner, said he was against the ordinance. He claimed the study done by the Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes District’s citizen’s advisory committee was illegal and said he wanted it rejected and removed from any considerations on the issue.

“I am not a big regulation person. I am not a big government person. The more regulations, the more ordinances that are placed on citizens wherever they live, I’m against. I’m against stricter ordinances period. Yes, we have a wake boat. Yes, we like to wake surf. Yes, we like to ski,” he said.

His last point was asking the boards to grandfather or give an exemption to owners of wake boats that are currently on the Chain O’ Lakes.
“When you rock everything and make it into a bathtub, we have lost about 4 feet of shoreline on one area of our property and 2 feet minimum on the rest. Round Lake is the center of this activity and it’s not only dangerous for us but also environmentally very destructive,” said Nancy Grist of Round Lake.

The next joint town board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 23.

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