Teal Lake repeal?

Public hearing planned to discuss gas-powered motors

NEGAUNEE — Teal Lake and gas-powered engines could be a good combination — or the concept might be like mixing oil and water.

The Negaunee City Council is hoping to get input from residents at a public hearing during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday on the repeal of two ordinances that ban gas-powered engines from the lake.

The council approved its first reading to repeal one ordinance that prohibits non-electric motors on the lake and a second that prohibits the launching of non-electric watercraft from public property on the lake.

The matter was first added to the agenda at the council’s regular meeting on April 13 at the request of councilman Nick Visser.

Visser said the repeal of the ordinances would bring people into the area, both new residents and tourists, and stimulate economic growth.

“I think that what we are doing with our economic development, this coincides with that,” Visser said. “The repeal of this ordinance will tie in with everything else including the SAW grants, Mr. Kantola trying to get a DDA together for downtown, and on top of that this ordinance — it’s far past its prime.”

Councilman Jim Kantola said the repeal of the ordinance had the potential to draw thousands of visitors to the area.

“It is not a quantifiable impact at this time, however if we estimate 150 boaters on both Saturday and Sunday on the lake every weekend, for six months, that is 7,800 additional potential customers within our city,” Kantola said “Without the lake open to motors, those boaters go elsewhere. Additionally, I believe as a family activity, the ability to boat on the lake will attract potential home buyers to our area which could lift property values for all property owners in Negaunee, benefiting the residents of the city.”

Visser also questioned the legality of the ordinances in relation to state law.

“I’ve got a letter here from the DNR that states our ordinance isn’t even valid anymore according to state law,” Visser said. “And the state law supersedes our ordinance.”

The letter Visser was referring to is from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to then Negaunee City Manager Tom Manninen in 2004.

“A review of your ordinance does not disclose any marine safety concerns that are not primarily governed by existing State law. The Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division does not assist local political subdivisions in establishing ordinances that prohibit the operation of certain vessels or associated equipment in Michigan waters,” the letter states. “To engage in such would be a form of discriminatory practice which would not be supported by the Attorney General’s Office. The law clearly defines our authority to enforce the operation of vessels, not the machinery that propels them.”

Negaunee City Attorney Bruce Houghton said the ordinance has been challenged in three separate court cases that have “upheld the validity and acknowledged the rights of local control under the Negaunee Ordinance.”

The case of People of the City of Negaunee vs. Donald Schinella in the Marquette County 25th Circuit Court on July 11, 2005, the last of the three cases, served as both an appeal and a declaratory action.

The decision states that the Marine Safety Act does not contain language that supersedes the authority of local ordinances.

“If the Legislature intended to preempt local ordinances, it is difficult to understand why they did not add such a provision to the Marine Safety Act,” the decision states.

In addition, the decision found that while the DNR may regulate the operation of vessels in any waters, the regulation is not mandatory.

The DNR has the option to require amendment or repeal of a local ordinance, according to the court decision.

“Neither the state nor the DNR has ever initiated action against the Teal Lake ordinance,” the decision states. “In fact, the DNR had a representative on the ad hoc committee that produced the Teal Lake Study Committee’s final report of June 8, 1994, which recommended that inboard and outboard petroleum-fueled boats be prohibited from the lake.”

According to the City of Negaunee’s Master Plan, surface water from Teal Lake was used as drinking water prior to 1994.

The practice stopped after stricter federal requirements requiring filtration of surface water caused several communities to switch from surface water to ground water at that time.

The city has used the Negaunee Ishpeming Water Authority as its primary water source for over two decades.

The results of a Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development survey in 2015 indicates that the majority of city residents would like the ordinances to stay in place.

In response to the question, “Would you like to see motor boats on Teal Lake?” 24 percent responded yes, 69 percent responded no, and 7 percent of those surveyed answered I don’t know.

Councilman Bill Anderson said the ordinances are not effective if gas-powered vehicles such as snowmobiles, ATVs and trucks are allowed on the lake in the winter.

“If it’s going to be an ordinance and a law, then everyone has to abide by it,” Anderson said.

Houghton said the city has not been contacted by the DNR or any other state agency regarding the ordinance, but that the city reached out to the DNR preemptively after the original letter from 2004 started to recirculate.

An April 27 letter from Houghton to Kirk Lapham, a legal policy specialist and regulatory affairs officer for the DNR, seems to confirm that the state does not intend to challenge the ordinances.

“Thank you for confirming that no action is planned concerning the Negaunee Ordinance banning the use of gasoline engines on Teal Lake,” Houghton’s letter to Lapham states. “Negaunee has quite satisfactorily enforced the ordinance through its Police Department on the few occasions enforcement has been necessary and has not requested DNR assistance.”

Anderson said the issue is less about boating and more about doing away with obsolete ordinances.

“Everybody keeps calling this a boat issue,” Anderson said. “I would like to get the word out there that it is not a boat issue, but we’re cleaning up the ordinances. Everybody refers to this as the Teal Lake boating issue — that’s not what this is about.”

Kantola said aside from the motor ban ordinances on Teal Lake, he is not aware of any other ordinance being addressed at this time.

He said the community will benefit if the ordinances are repealed.

“I believe the repeal of the two ordinances would allow our community to capitalize on Teal Lake, a wonderful asset the city has within its borders,” Kantola said. “Negaunee has great housing prices compared to other areas which is already attractive to families. This could be an added incentive for families to consider buying or building within Negaunee.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.