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Association asks board to raze damaged homes

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
June 12, 2010
— The Clear Lake Improvement Association on Monday plans to ask the Milton Town Board to issue raze orders for three homes that have been underwater at Clear Lake since 2008, officials said.

The Clear Lake Improvement Association met June 2 with officials from the township, Rock County, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to discuss who has authority to order razing of the swamped Clear Lake properties.


Town of Milton Attorney Dave Moore told the Gazette that officials at the meeting agreed the township could order the properties razed.


"It's my understanding both the town and county have that authority," Moore said.


The town board in September 2009 approved condemning the submerged properties as part a request by Clear Lake Improvement Association, a property owners group at the lake.


But in May, the board tabled action on the association's request that the town make formal condemnation orders, pending legal review by the town's attorney.


The houses have been underwater at Clear Lake since flooding in 2008 caused the lake to surge to unprecedented levels. The water has never receded, and, in fact, continues to rise with rainfall, officials say, threatening new properties along the shores of the spring fed lake north of Milton.


Residents and health officials have said the flooded properties pose health and safety risks to residents and visitors at the lake.


If the township issues raze orders for the swamped houses, Clear Lake Improvement Association Secretary Joyce Szymberski said, here's how the process would work:


-- The town building inspector would place a sign on the properties declaring the raze orders.


-- Town officials would contact the owners and issue a deadline for the owners to either repair or demolish the property.


-- Permits or exemptions likely would have to be issued be the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to approve the work.


If property owners failed to meet terms of the order, officials said, the township could seek court orders allowing it to enforce razing or removing the homes itself.


It's not clear whether the county is interested in issuing raze orders, and it's not clear if the county has money to raze the flooded properties. Town Chairman Brian Meyer and town building inspector Mark Langer could not be reached for comment.


Szymberski said raze orders would first be given to resident Don Lukas, 8813 Clear Lake Road, who owns one of the flooded properties.


Lukas has told officials demolition orders could help him get a tax break to pay to remove his home, Szymberski said.


Later, orders could be given to the Joseph Clouser, of 8647 Clear Lake Road, and Stephen Victor, of 8723 Clear Lake Road, who own the two other flooded homes, Szymberski said.


Victor and Clouser have not responded to attempts by township officials and the property owners group to discuss the flooded homes, Szymberski said.


Town supervisor Leonard Stalker told the Gazette that no matter who tears down the flooded homes, big challenges lay ahead.


He said officials have been told that since the properties are at the bottom of a steep incline, the demolition would have to be done from a street above the lake, using cranes and a network of drag lines. Or, he said, crews could do the demolition from the lake, using barges.


Either way, Stalker said, it likely will be an expensive process, rife with legal and bureaucratic tangles.


"It's a mess. There's so many loops and hoops to jump through," Stalker said. "It isn't going to be done tomorrow."


Stalker said he's interested to learn if raze orders for the flooded homes could yield results. He pointed out that properties along the lake, some linked to the lake's tourist industry, are threatened by the rising water.


"There could be more of this same thing down the road," Stalker said.



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