Is condemnation the best option?

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
— When the water at Clear Lake surged after unprecedented area floods in 2008, it put three houses on the east edge of Clear Lake underwater.

The waters still haven’t receded.

For nearly two years, the water table at the lake north of Milton has continued to climb, almost inexplicably, in turn causing Clear Lake to rise 8 feet above normal levels.

“It’s agony,” Clear Lake Improvement Association President Ann Roe told the Gazette in a recent phone interview.

Roe and other members of the property owners group she represents have given up hope of saving the three swamped houses, which sit submerged with water up to their windows.

The group Monday handed the Milton Town Board a petition signed by 19 of its 30 members, asking the board to prepare condemnation orders for the three submerged properties.

The group argues condemnation would be the first step to tearing down the ruined homes and restoring the spring-fed tourist lake to order.

The town board had approved proceedings for condemning the properties in September 2009, but it tabled action on the association’s request to move forward with formal condemnation orders Monday, pending legal review by the town’s attorney.

Joyce Szymberksi, secretary of the Clear Lake property owners group, said she was disappointed the board tabled the request Monday.

“They need to find the authority and get this done. The health of the lake is going to get worse if these buildings are left out there,” she said.

Town of Milton Clerk Sandra Kunkel said because all three properties are submerged in a body of water, it’s unclear whether the town, the county or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would have authority to enforce condemnation.

“It’s not cut and dried,” she told the Gazette on Monday.

Meanwhile, residents at Clear Lake say a quick canoe ride shows that owners of swamped properties have left appliances, gas cans and paint cans abandoned in the underwater homes.

“We’ve begged if we could at least get the stuff out of there. As of last weekend, it was still sitting there,” Roe said.

Tim Banwell, environmental health director at the Rock County Health Department, said the main risk along Clear Lake is flooded septic systems.

Banwell said officials have tested the groundwater and found “no marked degradations (in water quality).”

But he said if water levels stay high, the area’s septic systems—especially ones still in use—could be in danger of mixing with groundwater near the lake.

Some members of the Clear Lake Improvement Association said they believe town officials aren’t eager to get involved in condemning the properties because at least one of the submerged properties may have been abandoned.

“The (town) might figure they’d have to pay for some of the cleanup or something,” Clear Lake homeowner Bob Schrank said in a phone interview.

Roe said her group has attempted to contact owners of the three submerged houses on the lake, but that two of the owners, Joseph Clouser of 8647 Clear Lake Road and Stephen Victor of 8723, Clear Lake Rd., haven’t responded.

Roe said Don Lukas, who owns the lake’s other submerged home at 8813 Clear Lake Rd., seeks a condemnation order for his house because he says it could help him get an insurance settlement and a tax break to pay for its removal.

“It’s sad. It’s not like you wake up and say, ‘I want my property condemned today.’ But the lake won’t recede. It hasn’t changed, and we’re out of options,” Roe said.

Roe said her group is reviewing efforts by other homeowners groups in Jefferson and Sauk counties that tapped grant sources to help remove homes ruined by groundwater flooding.

“We’re looking to see how they did it. We’d try to piggyback on their work. Why reinvent the wheel?” Roe said.

The group also is seeking funding for ongoing water and sediment studies to learn why the water table at Clear Lake won’t recede.

Town of Milton officials plan to resume discussion about the condemnation request at their next regular meeting Monday, June 7.

Last updated: 1:52 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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