Goshen News, Goshen, IN


June 9, 2013

OUTDOOR COLUMN: The public deserves better meeting access

GOSHEN — Public meetings with government officials tend to bring out irrational behavior in some people.

That was exemplified last week in Edwardsburg, Mich. when Eagle and Juno chain of lakes residents pinned back the ears of Michigan DNR representatives over a proposal to develop a new public launch site between the two lakes.

Most of the 120 or so who showed up for the open house opposed a “concept” to develop a dual-purpose launch site on the old Dock Restaurant property along Eagle Lake Road. The DNR is ready to purchase the property from First Source Bank to improve access to Eagle and add a launch ramp on the channel leading to the Juno Chain.

“People were very vocal and passionate about the lakes,” said DNR Lands Program Manager Paul Yauk. “We had a good representation from lake associations, from county and township residents as well as people who live away from the lakes.”

The DNR, including Indiana’s, encounters similar negative reactions wherever they conduct public access open houses. In most cases, the uproar dies down after the site is built, in operation, and the residents realize it wasn’t nearly as threatening as they believed.

In Edwardsburg, the plan was for the public to offer comments and suggestions to a DNR biologist, conservation officer and public access officials positioned at tables around the room. The DNR was looking for ideas to enhance the site; instead they got an earful of disdain.

Lake residents wanted none of the table talk and demanded an open forum that became more of a shouting match.

One spokesperson compared the DNR’s concept to “Obamacare” because he and others thought the DNR was hiding facts – since it wasn’t providing specific details – and wasn’t addressing lake residents as a whole.

But this wasn’t a meeting of specifics or a public forum, as Yauk pointed out. It was an Open House to gather public ideas on how to make good use of the property and create a quality access for boaters and anglers.

The DNR’s vision is to capitalize on a great piece of lake property that gives more Michigan citizens access to these popular lakes as well as a community centerpiece.

And what a good thing it could be.

In addition to the new launch sites and parking area, Yauk wants to turn an existing pond on the property into a kids fishing site and provide the community with a facility in which it could be proud.

Most of the attending lake residents would have none of that, insisting that “their lakes” were being threatened by additional public use.

This is a common cry of lake residents everywhere, who often lose sight of the fact public waters are just that.

Lakefront ownership ends at the water’s edge and the DNR is commissioned to oversee those lakes for public use.

Residents expressed concerns that the site would add boat traffic and attract environmental and safety issues.

However, a DNR official told me that statistics show that a large percentage of boating citations written by conservation officers on public lakes go to local boaters.

Furthermore, those opposing the plan have short memories. It wasn’t that long ago that the Dock property was used for boat trailer parking and the public had plentiful access to Eagle Lake.

Since First Source took ownership, the number of “outsider” boats on the lake has been limited to a few.

Yauk continues to gather public suggestions and comments via email (yaukp@michigan.gov) and says he’s getting some good input on how the site development can benefit everyone.

    He’d love to hear from you as well, especially if you have some good ideas.

    “We’re planning to move forward and followed our due diligence with the township and the county,” he said. “The road commission has been supportive, too.”    The DNR’s next step is to make a presentation to the Michigan State Waterways Commission June 21, followed by a presentation to the Natural Resources Commission in July. If all goes well, the land purchase will be completed in the fall and development/construction will begin next year.

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