Janesville23.1°

Lake campaigning takes to the lawn, Internet

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GINA R. HEINE
October 31, 2008
— Lake Leota was drained three years ago, but it’s filled Evansville with controversy ever since.

The future of the lake-turned-swamp likely will end soon after residents vote on an advisory referendum Tuesday.


Voters will advise the city council whether it should spend up to $2 million to restore the lake by dredging about 200,000 cubic yards of material.


Not everyone is on board with the project in today’s tough economy, leaving several people campaigning in different ways on both sides of the issue.


The Save Our Lake Committee, or SOLE, has been pushing the city for years to move forward on the project.


“Everything is ready,” chairman Gilbert Wiedenhoeft said. “We’re never going to get it cheaper.”


The lake advocates have eight to 10 people going door-to-door distributing handouts and 140 “Yes” yards signs, he said.


“Everything is in place now,” he said. “The permit is in place, the lake is dry, indication (is we’ll have) cold weather so (the ground) freezes, we have a place to put the dirt, everything is in place. This is the time to do it.”


But Wiedenhoeft admits some people have a problem with the cost of the restoration.


The city estimates the project would add $50 to the tax bill for a $100,000 home next year, declining annually to $34 in the 20th year.


Although support for the referendum shows up on lawns, the opposition shows up on the Internet in local blogs.


On Main Street, voters pass one of the few “No” signs at the home of Richard Woulfe, a blogger who runs The Evansville Observer, available at www.evansvilleobserver.blogspot.com.

Woulfe’s blog has provided documents, audio and video from meetings related to the lake, he said. But his blog also urges voters to mark “no” on the ballot, offering the top 10 reasons why. The blog also has information on how to buy “Just Say No to Lake Leota” signs.


“Personally, I oppose it because I feel the tax rate for Evansville is up at the level where prospective people coming here find it unattractive because of the high taxes,” he said.


He points to other city projects being planned or under construction, including sewer plant upgrades, a new fire station and library expansion.


His site traffic has doubled during the campaign season, he said.


Other bloggers have taken issue with the price tag of the lake project, saying the real cost is $2.65 million. They say the city is misleading voters by not including the cost of two other projects—repair of the creek walls and the partial rerouting of the stream into the upper portion of the lake.


Some city officials have said those projects are separate from the dredging, and the stream change can be done years later, if it’s even needed. Woulfe points to video on his blog of a council member asking whether the stream diversion project should be included, to which some council members expressed concern that support of the referendum would decrease if the dollar amount increased.


The creek wall repairs are a needed public safety project and would be done regardless of the lake situation, officials said.



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