WHITE BEAR LAKE — The Lake Conservation District board of directors received an earful last week over something out of their control.
Mostly a lake user's diatribe involved new buoys at Memorial Beach. The city installed the buoys recently to keep boaters away from swimmers.
Deeper water beyond the buoys presents a safety hazard to boaters who are used to anchoring near the ropes in waist-deep water to let their children swim, said Tracy McKee, a Maplewood parent who spoke to the board on behalf of her boating friends and family.
"It feels like the conservation district is acting in bias against slip and launch boaters on behalf of a select few lakeshore property owners, some of whom have offered private funds to monitor and restrict public use," McKee maintained. "This no longer feels like you're representing a public body of water but attempting to make an exclusive, semiprivate amenity."
McKee was referring to a small group of residents who informed the board in July they were considering starting a nonprofit called Respect the Lake to raise money for enhanced water patrol.
In fact, the nonprofit was formed and a $1,500 check was going to be presented to the conservation district at its Aug. 20 meeting. The board declined the donation.
A statement made at last month's meeting about applying pressure to boaters who don't follow the rules to push them to other lakes was also a point of contention for McKee. "It feels like a threat to rid this lake of public boaters," she claimed. "We are slowly and aggressively being pushed out into the middle of the lake, which avid boaters know is dangerous."
What may be contrary to public opinion, McKee stated, is boaters near Memorial Beach "do not stand in the water to drink beer and prevent access for police. We truly enjoy lake life and make the most of it."
She added that no one in the group, "including the pirates, are using the beach as a public bathroom."
Pirates was a word Denny Trooien used to describe a select few boaters playing loud music and "behaving badly and ruining lake life" at the July meeting. He is one of the incorporators of the nonprofit.
Finally, McKee reminded the board that "we are not criminals, spoiled rich kids, bad actors, hard partyers or pirates. We are parents, friends, hardworking people who want to enjoy the water just like lake homeowners."
She also warned the board they were creating a contentious relationship between the water patrol and boaters. "Until the buoys occurred, we had a good relationship with water patrol," McKee said. "We were assured we were well within our rights."
Stepping to the microphone after McKee was another Maplewood boater, Kevin Campbell, who said he rents a slip at Tally's. "I don't understand what is going on," he said. "People are getting yelled at and videotaped. I'm trying to figure out what the deal is. I was kicked out of the same spot I've been going to for years."
Vadnais Heights resident Tom Truhler told the board he couldn't not come to the meeting. "I watched video from last month's meeting. I was appalled at references made about my friend Kevin, that he's a pirate and bad guy. He's a hardworking, community guy who spends money in this town. They all use this town. They're not breaking the law. If they were, they should have tickets, which they don't."
District legal counsel Alan Kantrud said most stops by the water patrol are safety checks. "I haven't seen a ‘boating while intoxicated’ for awhile and I haven't prosecuted anything this summer on anything being discussed here. Nothing has risen to a level of criminality."
Board Chair Bryan DeSmet did not address speakers' comments, made during open time, other than to state that the city put in the buoys, not the conservation district. He suggested talking to city officials, adding, "if you think there is something this board can do, come back and talk to us."
DeSmet then made the motion under new business to decline the check from Respect the Lake. "My concern is the precedence it sets," he said. "I'm not opposed to more hours by the sheriff's patrol on the lake. But we should use our own reserve funds."
The district contracts each season with Ramsey and Washington County law enforcement to patrol White Bear Lake. Members agreed to consider an increase in the patrol budget next year. Kantrud said he will inform the Respect the Lake group that they are welcome to modify its gift in the form of a grant.
In other Aug. 20 business, the board:
• Heard from lake quality committee chair Mike Parenteau.
Lake level is 925.05 feet. "It's stayed above 925 feet all summer and it's 1 foot 4 inches higher than last year at this time," he reported. Water temperature is 76 degrees.
• Approved charging a late fee to commercial marinas for late applications.
After Oct. 15, marina operators will be charged $25 per slip per week. More time was given for the compliance letter from the city. Operators must have that letter to the district no later than Jan. 1 to make the application complete.