Residents spoke out in favor of and against the proposed Ruth Lake Improvement District Tuesday.
Crow Wing County hosted a public hearing on the lake improvement district (LID), which prompted the largest audience for the meeting. The plan for Ruth Lake, near Emily, is asking for $90 per property owner per year for five years starting in 2013. The LID’s goals are to battle Eurasian milfoil and prevent other invasive species from taking hold.
Ruth Lake, a general development lake, covers about 600 acres with a maximum depth of 39 feet.
Arthur Patterson’s parents purchased property on Ruth Lake in 1954. The life-long Ruth Lake resident is president of the Ruth Lake Improvement Association.
Of 154 property owners on the lake, Patterson said 70 percent are seasonal and 75 percent are lake association members. The lake has had milfoil for 14 years and historically 35 to 45 percent contributed to fighting milfoil. This year the lake association sent out a special request and the contribution rose to 50 percent.
Patterson said most part-time lake residents want to come to the lake to enjoy it and go to their regular homes and make plans to return to the lake.
“They don’t want to worry about Eurasian water milfoil,” Patterson said. “They don’t want to worry about zebra muscles. They don’t want to worry about stormwater runoff or shoreland erosion. They feel that’s why they approved the board members, that’s why they approved the budget and they want all those problems to be only discussed at the annual meeting.”
In January, the lake association applies each year to chemically treat milfoil at a cost of nearly $500 an acre. The largest single plot of milfoil is on the northeast edge of Ruth Lake. Milfoil grows out to a depth of about 14 feet. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maps the lake and identified plants. Patterson said they’ve already identified more than 26 acres of milfoil. According to the records, that’s an increase from 14.67 acres in 2011.
Patterson said roughly 62 percent of signatures were collected in favor of the LID, meaning a third of the lake doesn’t necessarily agree. Patterson said it’s difficult for him to understand but it boils down to misinformation and a lack of trust as some residents think the LID means someone, or the government, will be taking over the lake. He said they fear property owners will have little or no input. Others, Patterson said, think someone will be able to access funds and use them for their own projects. He’s asked them if they’ve read the statutes about LIDs but it doesn’t seem to matter. Patterson said he’s found all of that talk to be personally offensive and stimulated him to get 62 percent of signatures.
“I never once heard I can’t afford 90 dollars,” Patterson said.
Years ago, he said, they never anticipated the need to treat acre after acre of milfoil or the need to educate themselves about shoreline erosion. The county has seven LIDs. Petitions typically came before the board as voluntary contributions no longer covered the cost of fighting invasive species. Establishing LIDs provided a way to spread out assessments, usually among riparian or lake-side land owners.
Sharon Timmons, Ruth Lake seasonal resident, was one of residents against the LID. And she brought letters from two other property owners also opposed. She said she appreciated all Patterson and the lake association has done. She reported she was concerned about losing control of decision making with the lake district and about where collected funds would be spent. If an idea was to spend money learning about rain gardens, Timmons said she can do that by picking up free handouts from the University of Minnesota Extension office instead.
With the milfoil problem popping up by the public launch, Timmons asked: “Is there a way to restrict that public launch?”
Timmons said they love their lake but wonder if there isn’t a way to have less access or more accountability year-round. Timmons had numerous questions about LIDs. Commissioner Phil Trusty noted much of the information she sought was available at the county’s website.
George Pepek, Ruth Lake Improvement Association board director, said getting information out to all seasonal residents is a challenge. Pepek said people distrust the government involvement but their intent is to cleanup the lake.
Kimble Lake was listed as a success model for an LID that helped the lake and where the success reduced the assessment costs to property owners. Ken Neihart with Whitefish Area Property Owners Association said: “Ruth lake needs your help. Ruth Lake needs this LID to get it done.”
Resident John Klein was concerned by the move from volunteer to mandatory penalizing lake home owners who are not the problem but asked to pay for it. Klein suggested collecting $3 or $1 from every boat owner to keep the area clean the way he said the Boundary Waters does.
Jim Schultz, president of the Kimble Lake Homeowners Association, said the LID has been successful with assessments down from $200 to $90. With additional progress, they’ll have to decide whether the LID is now needed or not. Having it made a huge difference in the lake, Schultz said, adding he hopes the lady that was critical will be active in the LID. Another property owners questioned how bad milfoil really was and said eventually he’ll be taxed for putting a dock on public water.
Board Chairman Doug Houge said he’s never been an LID supporter and the DNR never comes to these meetings, which Houge said is frustrating to him.
“They are a player in these games yet they never come to these meetings,” Houge said.
The board took no action Tuesday except to host the public hearing. Thiede said suspects the board tendency is toward approval. He said staff members can point out pitfalls if any, before board members cast their votes.
For Commissioner Phil Trusty, who has supported and voted against LIDs in the past, said his issue before was a policy that wasn’t black and white but that’s changed. Although Trusty said he thinks the requirement should be more than 60 percent of riparian lot owners.
The LID petition will return to the board for approval or denial.