Supreme Court rules against East Troy lake group
In a case the Lake Beulah Management District brought against East Troy and the Department of Natural Resources, the high court upheld lower court rulings that invalidated the district’s ordinance requiring district approval of water diverted from the lake’s basin.
In a 12-page opinion, Justice Patrick Crooks wrote that state law recognizes the DNR’s authority to site and regulate high capacity wells, and that pre-empts the district’s ordinance.
In 2003, the DNR ordered East Troy to increase its water capacity under regulations that require municipalities to have sufficient capacity to meet the highest daily demand if the largest capacity well isn’t functioning.
“We came close to being fined by the DNR for not having another operating well completed … due to delays caused by the district” contesting the site, Village President William Loesch said.
The village selected a site within 1,200 feet of Lake Beulah. After delays and DNR review, the state agency issued a permit for Well No. 7 in 2005 with a daily capacity of 1.44 million gallons, according to court documents.
The Lake Beulah Management District contested the site, claiming it would harm the lake. Walworth County Judge Robert Kennedy ruled that the DNR had a duty to consider the well’s impact, and there was no evidence that the well would harm the lake.
A state appeals court upheld Kennedy.
The second case between the same parties involved statements the lake district submitted from geologist Robert Nauta, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and the US Geological Survey that the village’s well would hurt the lake. The statements were not included in the DNR’s permitting process, and the court returned that case to Kennedy with instructions to order the DNR to determine if anyone had seen Nauta’s statement during the process.
Loesch considered both decision to be “victories” for the village in that the lake district doesn’t get to decide if a well’s operation is good or bad for the lake.
The village limits Well No. 7 to run at only 30 percent capacity and operates it to supplement the village’s other well, Loesch said. The village regularly monitors the well and the lake and has never seen data that indicates the well’s operation harms the lake, he said.
A call to Dean Laing, the lake district’s attorney, wasn’t returned before deadline. David Bitter, lake district president, hadn’t seen the decision and had no comment.