District to have taxing powers to raise funds to combat invasive species
BY KEVIN BONESKE
In the effort to raise funds for combating invasive species, particularly Eurasian Water Milfoil, the Oneida County Board voted 17-0 Tuesday to establish the Squash Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District.
The Squash Lake Association had initiated a petition drive last year to include properties into the district that surround the lake in the towns of Crescent and Woodboro. As stated on the petition, the district is “necessary to assume responsibility over invasive species control in and around Squash Lake, as well as assist in executing the objectives outlined in the Squash Lake Management Plan (2014).”
The petitioners obtained the necessary amount of signatures with 55.7 percent (156) of the landowners eligible to sign as well as signatures from owners of 57.08 percent (407.51) of the total acreage of all parcels in the district, exceeding the 51 percent minimum required by state law, based on the 2015 tax roll.
The county’s Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee, which reviewed the petitions, then held a public hearing Dec. 3 at the Crescent Town Hall, where committee chairman Bob Mott noted both the majority registering and testifying favored the creation of the lake district.
Mott will be one of the initial four members on the Squash Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District Board of Commissioners with the other three being landowners of the lake district, including two who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, Squash Lake Association president Dan Butkus and vice president Tom Johansen.
Butkus, who spearheaded the petition drive that designated properties near Squash Lake into the district, noted that at the first annual meeting the Board of Commissioners could put forward having a district mil rate that would be less for off-lake property owners than those with property on the lake.
“We took a lot of pains to set that boundary (in accordance with state law) with the understanding that we didn’t want to include people we shouldn’t include,” he said. “It was not a land grab. It was trying to be as conservative as possible, but make the definition of the boundary meet the requirements.”
Butkus said property owners living on the lake comprised more of the majority in favor of creating the district than those off the lake.
“We understand that, through no fault of their own, (off-lake property owners) are somehow captured,” he said. “They either have no access to the lake, no deeded access…they just happen to be caught in the middle.”
Upon the lake district being formed, Butkus said there is a process for off-lake property owners to petition to be detached from the district.
The main purpose of the district, Butkus said, is to “support a highly successful Eurasian Water Milfoil control effort, one that’s recognized in this state as ‘Best of Class.’”
“This is to continue our program without wholly being dependant on contributions from donors and state aid, which in the form of DNR (Department of Natural Resources) grants is highly competitive,” he said. “Both of those are extremely variable sources of funding.”
Johansen, who noted he has been involved in the fund-raising efforts to combat invasive species in the lake, said petitions signed by property owners near Squash Lake “show that they understand the importance of keeping our lake clean and healthy.”
“They understand the value of the lake as a recreational resource, and that’s personal for them, but they want to come and have a healthy lake and be able to use it and fish on it and boat on it and ski on it and do whatever they want on that lake,” he said. “They also understand there’s a connection to their property values that relates to the health and well-being of that lake as well.”
Given the difficulty for the lake association to raise funds to combat invasive species, Johansen said the formation of the district “assures that funding can continue in a very fair and equitable way for people who are on that lake.”