Local business reports harassment for Monterey Dam removal support

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Jake Magee
Thursday, April 20, 2017

JANESVILLE—Months after the Monterey Dam Citizen Advisory Committee recommended to the Janesville City Council to remove the dam, a committee member and local business owner said he's still facing harassment for his support of the decision.

Shawn McCarten, owner of It's a Keeper Bait & Tackle shop near the dam, originally opposed removing the dam. After joining the committee and learning how the river could be restored and the fishing habitat enhanced, he eventually voted with the majority of the committee to recommend the city remove the dam.

Within a couple days of the committee's decision, McCarten's business started facing harassment. McCarten believes at least some of it is coming from the Friends of Monterey Dam, a group of residents who want to keep the dam.

A day or two after the committee's early-March vote, McCarten got a call from the owner of the building he rents for his business. The owner said a real estate agent representing Jim and Jan Chesmore had expressed an interest in buying the building.

The Chesmores are spokespeople for the Friends of Monterey Dam group. Jim also served on the citizen advisory committee.

McCarten, who's working to buy the building that houses his business, saw the move as “an effort to intimidate him about the dam issue,” according to a March 30 police report.

“He (the owner) said it was really weird, especially the day after the committee made the recommendation to take the dam out,” McCarten said.

The Chesmores admitted contacting the building's owner with an interest in buying but denied the move was an attempt to intimidate McCarten.

During an early committee meeting, Jim mentioned how he'd sunk thousands of dollars into his home along the river. McCarten mentioned during the meeting that he, too, had a lot at stake and invested money in his business, McCarten said.

Jan, suspecting McCarten rented and didn't own the It's a Keeper building, had a real estate friend call the building owner, she said.

“There was no intimidation at all. It had everything to do with skin in the game,” Jan said.

McCarten was trying to say he had invested money in It's a Keeper's inventory and related costs, not the building itself, he said.

“It's not cheap to own a business,” he said.

Once they found out the McCartens were pursuing buying the building, the Chesmores dropped it, Jan said. The Chesmores didn't say how they would use the building if they purchased it.

McCarten also reported to police he'd heard from a local union representative that Friends of Monterey Dam was planning a protest to put It's a Keeper out of business. The Chesmores said they never planned such a thing.

“We're not that kind of people,” Jan said.

McCarten said he's faced harassment from pro-dam residents ever since the incidents. Some have gotten belligerent and said they would never support the business again, McCarten said.

“I get people flipping me off,” he said.

“It's sad that people are just being … it's just ridiculous,” he said.

McCarten reported the incidents not out of fear but to make sure they were on record, he said.

McCarten originally put up a “very polite” sign requesting people not discuss the dam with him at his business. Running the shop takes up too much time to spend much time discussing an issue that's already been decided, McCarten said.

“That didn't work,” he said, referring to the sign.

When the harassment continued, McCarten replaced the sign with a bolder one. The current sign hanging on his business's front entrance reads, “There will be no damn discussion regarding the damn dam.”

When McCarten does take the time to explain his views to upset residents, they sometimes calm down and come around, he said.

“It's the people that are uninformed raising hell,” McCarten said.

McCarten doesn't understand why he's taking so much heat for his views. The vast majority of the committee made a recommendation to the council to remove the dam, and it was the council that had the final say, McCarten said.

“There's a lot of people that blame us for the whole thing, which is totally asinine,” he said.

It's a Keeper is a small business competing with bigger chains and online stores. The negativity hurts, McCarten said.

“It beats you up a little bit,” he said.

McCarten said some have voiced support for his decision.

"I truly believe when this is all done, the river's going to be healthier, the fishing quality is going to be incredible and in three years, everyone's going to say, 'Wow, this is really nice.'"

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