The Rock-Koshkonong Lake District (RKLD) Board of Commissioners annual meeting of electors will be held Saturday, Aug. 10, at Fort Atkinson High School, 925 Lexington Blvd. Registration of electors will begin at 8:30 a.m. The meeting is scheduled to run between 9 and 10:30 a.m.
Topics ranging from finances and policy to dam modifications and boat landings have dominated discussion over the last several months. Communication, several board members have said, remains of concern.
An election to fill two RKLD Board of Commissioners seats will also be held. Both incumbents have said recently they remain undecided about making a run. Two challengers have announced their candidacies.
Annual budget, special fee increase
Electors will be asked to approve the district’s 2020 proposed $300,000 budget, which includes a $35 per parcel increase in the district’s special fee, raised from $40 per parcel charged last year to $75, with those monies earmarked to help support two new initiatives: a $450,000 boat launch project on Bingham Road, Albion, and a $100,000 engineering study to explore three proposed modifications to the Indianford Dam. Some money for both initiatives would come from other sources, including possible grants for the boat launch, and monies from the district’s segregated funds are proposed to offset 50 percent of the cost of the study.
Procedures and policies
At least two board members, Mike Shumaker and Alan Sweeney, have recently expressed concern over proposed financial practices and rules of procedure policies. Board discussions about the proposed policies were tabled twice: on March 21 and April 25.
During the March 21 board meeting, commissioners voted 5-1, with Sweeney casting the ‘no’ vote, to table both the Fiscal Practices Policy and consideration of the Rules of Procedure until what would have been the board’s next meeting. Those in favor of tabling the measure cited confusion about whether the two items had been, through passage by an earlier vote, combined into one document or had been placed together on the agenda for discussion. According to Sweeney, when he made the earlier motion, he had intended to combine the two items into one document.
Fielding questions about the tabled policy during a special meeting held on June 22, RKLD Board Chairman Steve Proud said the item was excluded from the board’s June 13 agenda because it was full, but the policy was among topics the board would discuss, likely, he said, sometime after the annual meeting.
Four town chairmen representing residents within the lake district, including Evan Sayre, Fulton; Bob Venske, Albion; Bill Burlingame, Koshkonong, and Bryan Meyer, Milton, cited their concerns about RKLD policies in an Aug. 1 letter to the editor.
They wrote: “Three of seven (RKLD board) members submitted a policy and procedure resolution to address long entrenched bad practices, but were not successful in passing that resolution.”
They cited what they alleged was “the RKLD chair’s attempt to discredit members of the RKLD board who are attempting to get information by open records request into the financial records of the lake district.”
The RKLD had spent “over $4 million” over the last “1 ½ decades with very little to show for taxpayer dollars,” the four claimed.
During the March 21 meeting, Proud announced that he planned to name Commissioner Jim Bowers to the Dam Committee. The board approved Bowers' appointment on April 25.
Also during the March 21 meeting, the board approved the formation of two new committees: the first was charged with creating a plan for silt management at Vinnie Ha Ha, for submittal to the DNR. The second, the Boat Launch Committee, was charged with exploring existing boat launches around the lake to determine needs and potential improvements. Shumaker and Bowers were appointed to both committees.
Wicket gate damage
Citing a lack of information shared with them during recent reports of damage sustained to the west wicket gate at the Indianford Dam, two board members, Shumaker and Sweeney, have raised concerns about board communication. Commissioner Ray Lunder said he and Proud discovered the damage on July 6. Both Shumaker and Sweeney said they were made aware of the damage after receiving telephone calls from a constituent on July 13.
According to information posted to the RKLD website on July 13, damage occurred “during normal dam cleaning,” leaving the west gate unable to close 100 percent. Steps were being taken to make repairs, and with help from Eagle Creek, Janesville, an individual had been identified to help remedy the problem, the information stated.
Eagle Creek Renewable Energy Southern Regional Manager Scott Purlee, hydro technician and Wild Rose Machine Shop, LLC, owner Chris Cutts, Shumaker and Lunder arrived at the dam on July 17 to assess damage and determine remedies.
Eagle Creek operates hydroelectric plants in Beloit and Janesville, including the Centerway Dam directly downstream from Indianford. Cutts works with Eagle Creek as a contractor and was recommended to RKLD by Purlee, DNR Dam Safety Specialist and Water Management Engineer Rob Davis explained recently by email.
During the July 17 meeting, Lunder said damage was discovered when he and Proud met with a prospective contractor whom they were intending to hire on a temporary basis to clean trash racks.
Lunder said RKLD contractor, Todd Westby, was no longer responding to board phone calls and emails, making necessary alternative plans for trash rack cleaning. As a security measure, the lock on the powerhouse door was replaced and keys were given to members of the Dam Committee, including Lunder, Proud and Bowers, Lunder said.
In a telephone interview, Shumaker said he believed he was a member of the Dam Committee. Before the lock was changed, he was given a key to the powerhouse, he said.
A matter of compliance
Speaking with the Milton Courier on July 13, Edgerton resident George Wellenkotter alleged that by his calculation, RKLD had not complied with a revised DNR operating order for the Indianford Dam for eight days. Wellenkotter claimed he had photographic evidence, showing an absence of rack cleaning activity, captured using a hand-held camera and a stationary camera situated on private property adjacent to the powerhouse.
Answering questions by email, Davis noted that the revised order had gone into effect on May 31. Among changes, it requires that RKLD keep an accurate daily log of lake levels, gate changes and trash rack cleaning, including a new column certifying daily trash rack cleanings. The log would be submitted to the department daily, rather than, as had been past practice, upon request.
Davis wrote: “The reporting of trash rack cleaning was not immediately updated in their daily log, but it is now.”
Davis said he had been made aware of damage to the west wicket gate at Indianford in an email sent by Proud on July 9.
According to Davis, in his emails, Proud said that while the wicket gate was damaged, it was unsafe to clean the racks. He said the unsafe conditions would exist until both gates could be closed 100 percent. Currently, Davis said, he understood that the west gate could only be “shut down to 40 percent open.”
Plans called for a contractor to go into the turbine cavity and see if there was debris blocking the gate or if the gate had sustained damage, Davis wrote.
Davis said he understood that the gates had not been cleaned since the damage had occurred.
“We are working with RKLD to get this issue remedied as quickly as possible. Dams all over have issues all of the time and that does not necessarily make it an issue of noncompliance,” Davis wrote.
Race for two seats
Seats held by Lunder, who is also the board’s treasurer, and Commissioner Joan Huedepohl, who serves as the board’s secretary, will be decided during the annual meeting. Seats carry three-year terms.
During the special June 22 RKLD meeting, both incumbents said they were undecided about whether they would run.
As in past years, electors will be invited to make nominations from the annual meeting floor, Lunder said. At that time, incumbents can agree or decline to run, he said.
The Milton Courier shared with both incumbents through email on July 11 a two-question candidates’ questionnaire, requesting return of the form by July 18. Questionnaires were not returned. Two challengers recently announcing their candidacies are James Jelinek, Edgerton, and Mark Meyer, Koshkonong.
According to biographical information posted on the RKLD website, Jelinek lives along Lake Koshkonong and owns property within the district in both Dane and Jefferson counties. He is an advanced EMT and firefighter serving with the Edgerton Fire Protection District, and is president of the Rock River/ Koshkonong Water Rescue Association. He is also a sergeant with the Rock River Safety Patrol.
As stated on the website: “In past roles, he has developed/monitored budgets, scheduled and led personnel, initiated expense reduction initiatives, assisted in fund development for new equipment and offering new services through grant requests and soliciting donations/increased payments, and solidify community and customer support.” His full bio is here: https://rkld.org/jim-jelinek-formally-announces-candidacy-for-rkld-board/.
During a telephone interview, Meyer described himself as a boater, fisherman and hunter, who has lived in the town of Koshkonong for 40 years. As a gas and oil division manager with State Group Industrial for 16 years, Meyer said he brings financial expertise, including developing project estimates, managing construction projects and their associated budgets, and sales.
Said Meyer: “I’d like to control past spending and let the voters pick the projects, not the board.
“My priority is water levels and getting them regulated to a point where it is as good as we can do. There will always be floods and draughts, but we can do better.”
While Meyer does not use social media or have a website, he said an active campaign, with volunteers handing out fliers, has been underway since July 29.