Dead in the water

Gas motors still banned on Teal Lake

Negaunee Parks and Recreation member Anna Mattson addresses the council in opposition to the council lifting a ban on gas motors on Teal Lake. Mattson was one of dozens of residents speaking both for and against the proposed repeal. The council voted to uphold the ordinance. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee City Council opted to keep gas-powered motors off of Teal Lake after more than 100 residents attended a contentious regular meeting on Thursday.

The two ordinances, which ban any watercraft vehicle or machine of any kind other than an electric motor or engine to be launched from public property onto the lake or to be used on the lake, were upheld in a 5 to 2 vote, with Councilmen Nick Visser and Jim Kantola voting no on the motion.

At the council’s April 13 meeting, Visser requested that the ordinance repeal be added to the council agenda that night, citing economic development and the legality of the ordinances under Michigan law.

Dozens of residents spoke during the public hearing Thursday on both sides of the issue. Most speakers were opposed to the repeal, citing concerns about a lack of adequate parking, the safety of swimmers and operators of non-motorized vehicles on the lake, pollutants, noise pollution, wakes caused by motor boats, and the affect of high powered motors on fish and other wildlife.

Those opposing the repeal also pointed out that rescinding the ordinance would be contrary to the city’s most recent master plan, which was approved by the council on Jan. 12, which included the results of a 2015-2016 survey in which of the 400 respondents, asked if they wanted to see gas motors on Teal Lake, 69 percent said no.

Those speaking in favor of the repeal said safety issues and other concerns were unfounded based on their experiences on other lakes in the area.

Resident, property and business owner Scott Gravedoni, whose family members including his wife and daughter also spoke in favor of the repeal, said the lake should be open to responsible motorboat owners.

“There are many lakes in this area, all of which allow power boats in that area, and they get along just fine. Why people think that just by putting gas-powered boats is going to mean body parts flying and people getting run down. Under Michigan Law there is 100 feet that you have to stay from any swimmer, a dock, a raft, a swimming area. Boats aren’t going to be zipping through swimming areas next to swimmers,” Gravedoni said. “I am glad to see we finally have an open-minded council here to take a look at this ordinance once again and rescind this ordinance. I think it’s time to stop the recreational discrimination that we have on Teal Lake.”

Planning Commission member Jon Becker read a letter on behalf of the commission opposing the repeal, in part, Becker said, because the council did not involve the planning commission in the process.

“This repeal is being considered without consultation or support from the Planning Commission,” the letter states. “The Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission are the two public bodies that should be consulted prior to April 13. Placing the issue on the city council agenda with no discussion or forewarning is a disservice to transparency and the democratic process.”

Mayor Don Gladwell said while the council was within its rights to add the repeal to the agenda in April, he agreed that more communication with other boards and commissions may have been a better choice.

“I believe we should have gone to the Planning Commission as well as the Parks and Recreation Commission. We’ve always said we wanted to be transparent, I am not insinuating anything. …this was not done in any way shape or form to be anything but that,” Gladwell said. “But we do need to rely on our boards for input, otherwise why do we have them.”

Anna Mattson, who is on the Parks and Recreation Commission, said she was in support of economic development, but was opposed to the repeal.

“Let’s get this boat thing, and it is a boat thing, put to bed. Let’s go on. We gave you money to fix our streets, fix them. That is going to bring more people to this town than a boat out on Teal Lake. So there was a reference made to the future economic plan of this town and how gasoline engines were going to be a part of that puzzle,” Mattson said. “I think that’s an excellent idea. Economic development DDA, we’ve got to do something, but if you do not involve the people and listen to the people, your ideas are going to be, excuse the pun — dead in the water.”

Councilman David Kangas said the city of Ishpeming, who owns just over 400 acres on the north side of Teal Lake, has a vested interest in the issue.

“For us to singularly determine the future of the lake, I feel is a bit short-sighted and egotistical,” Kangas said.

Visser said the residents he spoke to said they supported repeal of the ordinances.

“What we’re doing isn’t working. Every year the budget’s short, every year we have to cut. Every year we have to figure out how to raise more money to cover the losses, there isn’t anything more we can cut,” Visser said. “Part of the reason I proposed this was for the economic aspect, and I said it before, it had to take this to get people to come down? We ask for ideas, economic ideas, something to bring the town back. We have to increase our tax base somehow, because people don’t want to pay higher taxes, all that is going to do is drive away growth.”

Visser also cited inconsistencies with enforcing the ordinance as a motivating factor for repeal. He said snowmobiles and other gas powered vehicles are allowed on the lake once it ices over in the winter months.

“Ice fishing pollutes in the same way. We have snowmobiles on the lake. Where do you think ice fishermen go to the bathroom? They are not running off the lake,” Visser said. “They have gas-powered augers with gasoline on the lake that they bring.”

Visser said he is still concerned about whether the ordinances are legal, citing the Motor Boat Act of 1962 and the opinion of then Attorney General Frank Kelly.

Houghton said that three different court cases had ruled that the ordinance does not violate any Michigan law, and the complainants in those cases were given the opportunity to appeal the decision, but chose not to.

Gladwell said the issue of legality had been decided by the court.

“I think its been pretty well hashed out here — the difference in opinion and everything else there but in this case, I think we have the three judges’ rulings and we should move on. Otherwise, one of those three judges, all of which are very knowledgeable in law, and take their job very seriously — one of them would strike it down in my opinion,” Gladwell said.

Councilman Jason Wallner, like all the other members of the council, thanked the public for their input.

“As I sit here tonight and listen to many of you speak, regardless of where you stand on the issue, one of the things is, we all love our lake,” Wallner said. “Whether you want to put a motorboat on it or a paddle board on it, we all love our lake. The thing with this, if we don’t repeal it, we need your help. The same thing with the planning commission, we need your help marketing that lake, talking about that lake, encouraging that lake to grow. If we continue to go with a silent lake, great. I don’t want to look at us as a dying mine community with nothing but bars on our streets, we are something more. We all chose to live here, I chose to live here, we want to continue to see this community grow. We need your help. If it took something like this to get the community involved and impassioned, maybe something good came out of this evening.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.