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home : news : county/state news August 17, 2017

2/28/2017 7:28:00 AM
Three Lakes town board will adhere to state law on private piers on public land

Daleth Mountjoy
Special to the River News

The controversy surrounding a strip of land located on Maple Lake in the town of Three Lakes seems to have come to an end after the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) denied a request by the Three Lakes town board to discontinue the land as a public way. Greg Harrold, the town's attorney, was present at the Feb. 21 town board meeting, to explain the decision and offer advice.

As previously reported, private property owners have placed piers at the end of Lake Drive, formally known as Osceola Boulevard, for decades. The town board had voted to discontinue the land as a public way, allowing the piers to be placed and the land to go to the owners, making them waterfront property owners and requiring them to pay the necessary property taxes.

Harrold explained the town board has received correspondence from attorneys representing the private land owners about the status of the strip of land. He said the plat was recorded in 1892 as not belonging to the property owners and at the time Three Lakes was in Forest County.

"As a result of communications, the town did assign a deed to the property owners in 2008, conveying that strip of land to them," Harrold said. "It's my understanding that was done without a town meeting to approve that action, to convey those lands. That was delivered to the register of deeds for Oneida County for recording, then delivered to the Land Information office for Oneida County. The gentleman there, Mr. Mike Romportl, contended that the strip of land ... between the lots and the lake was a continuance of Osceola Boulevard, which is the road that runs between Maple Lake and much of the downtown area of Three Lakes. So, he did not recognize for tax purposes the, if you want to call it annexation or whatever, taking of that property between the lots and the lake as being owned by the property owners."

Frustrated, the town decided it would go ahead and formally discontinue that strip of land. After a series of legal filings, the board ultimately signed an order Oct. 4, 2016, that the strip of land be discontinued as a public way.

"That resolution was not effective, however, as no resolution that involves discontinuing a public way on a public body of water is effective unless the DNR approves it," Harrold continued. "So, once it was approved by the town, the resolution was sent to the DNR. They reviewed it, and on February 1, 2017, we received their order. In their order, they determined the property did not qualify, under the state statutes, as a property that should be abandoned or be discontinued. Therefore, they refused to recognize the discontinued public access of that road. The board now has a situation in which the order of discontinuance is no longer effective and a decision from the DNR that states that the access proposed to be abandoned does contribute to the quality and quantity of public access on the body of water and they felt it should not be discontinued."

Harrold said the town had received correspondence from Jeff Bruss, on behalf of his father Dale, requesting the board appeal the DNR's decision. The appeal must be filed with the circuit court within 30 days of the decision. Harrold also said the property owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bruss or Mr. and Mrs. Greene, could file the appeal if the board decides not to file.

One Three Lakes resident spoke to the board after Harrold's opening statement, saying he felt most of the town's residents did not know about the situation and the town board should pursue the appeal.

His reasoning was the additional taxes from being lakefront property owners would benefit the town, and the town residents would not experience any loss from granting the land to the adjacent owners.

One of the property owners, Mary Greene, also spoke to the board.

"By virtue of the quit-claim deed, we are the legal owners of the land," Greene said. "The DNR action does not undo our ownership. Using the previous board's decision of a quit-claim deed would be the honorable thing to do. Using the DNR as a tool is inappropriate. If you continue with these actions you are taking the board will be held accountable."

Stella Westfall, town chairperson, said the board was faced with two options: either accept the DNR's decision or file an appeal. She asked Harrold's opinion on the estimated cost to the town to file the appeal.

He replied that it would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

"Essentially, what we would have to prove, is that the site would not be of beneficial use to the members of the public," Harrold said, regarding the appeal. "Does it contribute to the quality of access for residents who wish to access or view the lake? From the board's standpoint when they originally adopted it, I think they felt, you know, this is 338 feet out of, I have no idea how many feet of frontage on Maple Lake in this subdivision, but it's a significant amount."

Town supervisor Steve Garbowicz asked if the appeal would be of the DNR records or if there would be a trial based on the merits of the case. Harrold said he felt there could be a trial on the merits.

Westfall asked if anyone on the board was willing to make a motion to file an appeal. No one on the board spoke up.

"If not, then we're done as far as what the town board is going to do," Westfall said. "The next option is the families can take it into your hands to file an appeal directly with the DNR. That's all we can do."

The board also decided to table a resolution recognizing the DNR denial action, to wait to see if an appeal is filed by the property owners.

Garbowicz asked Harrold if the town needed to pass a resolution regarding the DNR action. Harrold said if they did nothing, the previous resolution would be ineffective and the board would be better off putting something on record to reflect that fact.

Private piers on public land

After the decision to table the resolution, Westfall continued to the next agenda item, piers on Maple Lake and Lake Drive-Osceola Boulevard.

Westfall said the pier issue goes back to the 1960s and asked town supervisor Pat Volk if he had anything to say on the matter.

"The only thing, the town board has voted not to vacate Osceola Boulevard," Volk said. "So I don't think the town board has to do anything about this. What else can the town board do?"

"Just adhere to state law," Westfall replied. "State law (says) there are no private piers on public property. Again, we have a lot of emails and a lot of background information on all of this, but in this case, the option that the people that live on the other side of that road that want to have piers, your option is to get an attorney and make a claim against the town to prove, one way or another, if you've got some kind of claim to that property. As far as the town board is concerned, this subject is done. Unless we hear something from (the property owners) in regard to some kind of suit against the town, we're going to adhere to state statutes."

Westfall was speaking of Wisconsin state statute 30.131.

Harrold said the statute states persons cannot place a pier into the water if they are not the riparian property owner, and since the town owns the other side of Osceola Boulevard, Bruss and Greene are not considered riparian property owners. He noted there are exceptions in the statute for easements written before 1986.

New town building project and buoys

In other business, after a motion by Garbowicz to hire Keller for the new town hall building project failed, the town ultimately voted to hire DeLeers Construction Inc.

The town also heard a town shop update from Brian Slizewski, town shop foreman, who spoke to the extensive cost of buoys.

"We have approximately $10,000 in damaged buoys," Slizewski said. "We currently budget $2,000 for our buoy replacement program. For the last three years, the lakefront association, if we budget $2,000, they gave us $4,000. They would like the town to budget more. I would've liked to know that before budget time, but seeing as we have $10,000 in bad buoys and lights. I'm asking for permission to double (our budget) this year."

Slizewski said roughly half of the $10,000 is lights.

Town clerk Sue Harris said she would be looking to increase the buoy replacement for the 2018 budget, but would ask that the board approve exceeding the $2,000 line item in the 2017 budget.

A representative from the fish and wildlife improvement association said the group has discussed offering a reward to catch people who are tampering with the lights on buoys.

Slizewski said damage or theft of the lights happens every year, and not always the same lights from year to year.

He added that the town has around 180 buoys, and the cost of replacement is $133 for a red and green buoy, $115 for a slow/no wake buoy. Each light is $200 with the cage for the light another $38. He also said the town is missing 26 lights.

"We need to let people know the amount of money we're spending on buoys is ridiculous," Garbowicz said.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Article comment by: Brian Johnson

To the property owners on the other side of the road Mr. and Mrs. Bruss and Mrs. Greene. If you can come up with a few hundred thousand, just donate the money to one of your corrupt republican politicians (who you probably voted for) campaign. Problem solved. Tell them the Uilheins sent ya . Jarchow or Tiffany can be bought that's a gimme.

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