County asked to intervene in Lake Chapeau dispute

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Stalled in negotiations for an easement to build a dam at Lake Chapeau, area residents who want to control the lake’s water level asked the county to go to court to force sale of the property Tuesday.

Tom Tubbs, president of the Lake Chapeau Habitat Committee, told Freeborn County commissioners that the dam is necessary to protect habitat for wildlife. He asserted that the dam benefits the public.

The committee filed a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources to prevent the agency from removing a temporary dam the group built in the

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fall of 2000 without the agency’s authorization. Last May, both parties settled, agreeing the current dam would be replaced with a new water-control structure at the expense of the committee.

But, the settlement has become fragile because George Dress, a landowner around the dam, refused to sign the settlement, demanding a $60,000 bond in exchange for giving an easement, a legal necessity to placing the dam at the site.

&uot;Mr. Dress’ refusal to sign the easement jeopardized the whole process,&uot; said attorney Don Savelkoul, who represents the committee. &uot;I think the issue of (whether) there is public benefit to the wetland enhancement, I think that issue has been determined time and time again.&uot;

Savelkoul stated that the approval by the Internal Revenue Service of the Committee’s application for a tax-exempt status proves the presence of public benefit in their activities. He also emphasized that the lake has public access and the water-level control is not in the interest of limited number of area residents.

The committee wants the county to condemn the land, a process that lets a judge decide on a fair price in projects that are deemed necessary for the public good.

However, Scott Hanna, who owns a 12.5-acre parcel land on the east side of the lake, objected to the request. He asked the county to stay out of the dispute.

&uot;I think this is a last-ditch effort set forth by private citizens to do something for the group of citizens walking onto his (Dress’s) property,&uot; Hanna said. &uot;The matters around the courthouse here, I think the good for the entire public is quite obvious. But as far as the lake goes, I don’t believe this is for the general population. I don’t believe this is about the good of everybody. I think it’s the good of small group of individuals.&uot;

Hanna jumped into the litigation between the committee and DNR, claiming that the dam would damage his property. Though he signed the settlement, he contends that condemnation is not the right process.

&uot;If the property owner where they want to place the structure is opposed to it, regardless of who the property owner is, it’s his property. If they can’t show overwhelming benefits for the community as a whole, I hesitate to go for it.&uot;

The board decided to gather more information before deciding, including through a site walkthrough.