Goshen News, Goshen, IN

September 8, 2013

OUTDOOR COLUMN: Michigan sportsmen dealt another blow

By LOUIE STOUT
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — Kiss it goodbye.

The Michigan DNR has thrown in the towel on its attempt to purchase the former Dock Property between Eagle Lake and the Juno Chain and create a facility for public use.

“Without support from Ontwa Township, the Department of Natural Resources has decided not to move forward with the acquisition of the Dock parcel on Eagle Lake,” said DNR official Paul Yauk, who has spearheaded the acquisition and development since early spring.

And who can blame the agency? The well-organized lake associations on both bodies of water have fought the DNR vehemently. The DNR said from beginning that it wanted community and local governmental support before it wrote the $600,000 check to 1st Source Bank, who owns the foreclosed property.

It didn’t get that support.

On the surface, this matter may not appear to impact Hoosiers, but it does. The lakes are located a few miles north of Elkhart and have been popular fishing lakes.

More importantly, it exemplifies how difficult and political it has become for state governments to develop public access for all residents.

In this one, many Ontwa government officials – who privately supported the project – buckled and the DNR and sportsmen got bush-wacked.

The deal crumbled this week when the Township Zoning Board of Appeals astonishingly voted 4-3, denying the project was a “park” and therefore didn’t meet township standards for a residential development.

They voted that way despite their own township attorneys and engineers saying that the site met the zoning regulations and was indeed a “park.” Officials led the DNR to believe it had township support and the state could write the check to the bank the next day and take ownership.

Yet, some board members argued there was no playground equipment included in the plan and therefore didn’t qualify as a park. Apparently, without teeter totters and merry-go-rounds, you can’t have a community facility that provides improved boat launching, parking, a community pavilion, restrooms, and a kids’ fishing pond.

Really. I’m not making this stuff up.

Oh, wait, there’s more. Two of the zoning board members who voted against the DNR acquisition reportedly are members of the lake associations that have protested the DNR acquisition from the beginning.

Conflict of interest? You betcha.

The DNR should have appealed the ruling which it could have won easily in court, but got tired of being kicked over a project designed for the good of all Michigan residents. It has other opportunities to develop access sites around the state, so it will take its money elsewhere.

Thanks a lot Ontwa Township.

Of course, lake residents insist they really aren’t opposed to a boat launch, but simply concerned with the inclusion of more people/boats on their lakes. They claim it’s a matter of safety and conservation.

Bull. Why didn’t they offer to work with the DNR instead of fighting them over petty issues?

The Dock property has served as a parking facility for boaters for 50 years and the DNR development would have improved an eyesore. The trailer parking the DNR allotted was less than what was available before the bank took ownership. The project also would have provided the community a safer environment with additional outdoor recreation.

If water safety is a sincere concern, why don’t lake residents address the boat traffic they themselves have created? Many have multiple power boats, Jet Skis, pontoons and sailboats tied their docks. Why not impose a no-wake period in the mornings, as some lakes do?

Because that interferes with their private playground.

If I’m wrong and the lakers have good intentions, they can prove it. Invest the money they reportedly gathered to fight the DNR’s purchase.

They can spend their own cash to improve the existing, dilapidated launch and add a safer parking area for those who still try to use it. Address those traffic concerns that they portrayed in their arguments. Spend their dollars – not the money that state of Michigan and sportsmen were eager to invest.

Bet they won’t. Now that the DNR walked away, those committed dollars likely will disappear. Or, maybe they’ll buy it, invest in residential lots, make money off the deal and stick more docks in the lake for more boats to crowd up THEIR lakes.

Don’t be surprised if that happens.

The DNR certainly isn’t blameless in this travesty. To walk away from such a perfect parcel and beneficial project sets a horrible precedent and sends a message to other well-heeled lake associations that they can hire attorneys and beat down future public access attempts.

Sportsmen and boaters who fund these projects will get the short end of the stick.  Again.

Contact Goshen News outdoor writer Louie Stout at stoutoutdoors@comcast.net.