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Green Lake property owners seek safety and quiet on the water

A group of County Park 5 campers eases a pontoon into the water on Green Lake in this undated photo. Some residents are concerned by an increase in the boats, rafts and people converging along the shores of their lakefront properties. One resident said just last month he was verbally berated when he asked a group of boaters in front of his property to move to the side so he take a personal watercraft out to the lake. Tribune photo

WILLMAR -- It doesn't matter if it's a Wednesday or a Saturday, but on any hot, sunny summer day there can be 15, 150 or 250 boats anchored in a small area off the shore of Green Lake.

Along with the congregation of boats, rafts and people wading and swimming in waist-deep water, come loud music, laughing, talking and some beer drinking. It's a lot of fun for those in the flotilla who are partying in the water. But some homeowners, who have a large group of strangers whooping it up at the end of their dock, feel trapped, abused and unable to use the lake they pay a lot of money to live on. On the Fourth of July, one homeowner reportedly asked a large group of boaters in front of his property to move to the side so that a grandchild could take a personal watercraft out to the lake.

The homeowner was verbally berated and accused of being a "rich person" who's trying to prevent others from using the lake, said Ron Schneider, who relayed the story to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Green Lake property owners don't want to be perceived as people who want the lake "to ourselves," said Schneider.

But the growing crowd of boats congregating in small areas, and fast boats that go too close to swimming areas, creates "a potential for harm," said Schneider, who presented the commissioners with a request to establish a 300-foot quiet zone around the lake.

Using buoys to mark off a 300-foot area from the shore for the 12 miles around the lake would give homeowners some safe space in the water where boats couldn't be anchored or go faster than 5 mph, he said.

He estimates it would restrict about 7 percent of the lake's water surface from public use.

"It won't be as intrusive as you might think at first blush," Schneider told the commissioners.

He said 600 buoys with solar-powered lights could be placed around the lake to establish a uniform no-wake zone for nearly the entire 12 miles.

Creating a quiet zone would preserve 7 percent of the lake for kids, kayaking, swimming and other non-motorized activities, and "93 percent would be preserved for people with fast boats," said Sandy Ehlers during the board meeting.

She told the commissioners that her physically challenged husband no longer feels safe swimming in the lake because of boats that come too close and too fast to the shore.

Similar zones have been established on popular lakes in the metro area, she said.

Currently, homeowners are allowed to mark with buoys a designated swimming area in front of their property that does not exceed 2,500 square feet and does not extend into the navigational part of the lake, said Sheriff Dan Hartog, in a later interview.

While personal watercraft, or jet skis, cannot come closer than 150 feet to a dock, boats are not prohibited from coming closer and can legally be run or anchored at the end of another person's dock as long as they're not being driven carelessly, he said.

"It's public water," said Hartog, adding that there's not a lot law enforcement can legally do to prevent boats from congregating in one spot. Officers can and do ask people to tone down the noise, he said, but budget cuts this year have eliminated a half-time deputy who last year was dedicated to patrolling lakes.

Ann Latham, whose property is close to a popular spot, said the music was so loud on the lake one day that the windows on her house were rattling.

Ehlers said Green Lake residents pay nearly 10 percent of the property taxes in Kandiyohi County and "have a right to swim" in the lake.

Being allowed to create a safe ring around the outer edge of the lake is "reasonable, it's fair and it's a win-win for everybody," said Ehlers.

Schneider, an attorney, said he understands that freedom of assembly and free speech will make it difficult to craft an ordinance that will be enforceable. Nevertheless, he asked the commissioners to take on the task.

While not at all eager to embrace the 300-foot quiet zone, Chairman Dennis Peterson said something needs to be done to address the large number of boats that congregate on the lake.

"Unless you've seen it, you would not believe it," said Peterson. "It's a bad situation."

The commissioners agreed to form a committee with representatives from various entities, like the Department of Natural Resources, lake residents, county commissioners and law enforcement.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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