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Environmentalist says invasive aquatic plant threatens Geneva Lake


A local environmental agency plans to dredge a Geneva Lake lagoon this fall to eradicate an invasive underwater plant threatening the lake.

Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, said the group last fall identified the invasive starry stonewort plant, an underwater macroalgae, in Trinke Lagoon on the lake’s south side.

It’s the first time the invasive plant has sprouted in Geneva Lake, Peters said. The plant is native to Asia and Europe and was likely brought to the continent by tankers plying the Atlantic Ocean.

Peters said starry stonewort is difficult to control because its bulbils are buried in the sediment and can’t be eradicated by chemical treatment. The lagoon must be dredged to stamp it out, Peters said.

Plans to dredge the lagoon this spring stalled after a company bid about $850,000, which Peters said was unacceptably high. The same company bid $174,000 to dredge the lagoon this fall.

Peters said the agency will open bidding May 13 for the fall dredging.

In the meantime, Peters said, the agency is asking people to avoid the lagoon until the plant is eradicated. They also are lobbying the state Department of Natural Resources to restrict access to the lagoon.

Peters said the agency does not have authority to do so because waters in the state are held in public trust. Additionally, Peters said, 35 to 40 boats are moored in the lagoon by local property owners, and closing it would cause a “significant inconvenience” to them.

Starry stonewort

Still, Peters wondered if the risks of spreading starry stonewort warrant the lagoon’s temporary closure.

If the plant is spread to the entire lake, Peters said, it likely would be difficult to eliminate and would alter the biological community, changing the environment such that fish and native critters could not survive.

“It will out-compete the native species and send a ripple through the whole food chain,” he said.

Dredging the lagoon will require screening off its channel to the lake. A large vacuum-like machine will suck about 2 feet of sediment from the bottom of the lagoon, Peters said.

The dredged material will be pumped to large watering bags, which will trap the sediment and plants’ bulbils. Access to the lagoon will be restricted for about two weeks after Labor Day during dredging, Peters said.

Two chemical treatments this summer will shut down the lagoon for 10 days. That will be done to exterminate the plant on the surface, but it will not kill the bulbils.

Star-shaped bulbils are produced at the nodes of the starry stonewort. The plant was recently discovered in Trinke Lagoon along Geneva Lake’s south shore.

Sixteen lakes in Wisconsin are verified to have starry stonewort, according to the DNR, including two in Racine and Waukesha counties. Six lakes in Door County are verified to have it. It first appeared in Wisconsin in 2014.

Peters said the plant is spread when bits of it are carried from an area by boat. Bulbils also can be transported by water, mud or boat anchors.

Geneva Lake has seen cases of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed, all of which are invasive aquatic plants, Peters said. By comparison, starry stonewort is much more aggressive, he said.

“What we really want to do is make the public aware of this plant ... and to maybe make a personal sacrifice of not fishing in this area until next year because the risk of doing so could affect the whole lake,” Peters said.

Anthony Wahl 

Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, looks out onto Trinke Lagoon, where the invasive species starry stonewort was discovered in fall 2018. The agency plans to dredge the lagoon this fall in an effort to eradicate the threat the microalgae poses to the lake.

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Five area high schools stand out in U.S. News & World Report rankings

A handful of Rock County and Walworth County schools rank among the best in the nation, according to annual high school rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

The media company ranked 17,245 high schools nationwide.

Of those, five area schools made it into the top 30%. They include Williams Bay, No. 833; Elkhorn, No. 2,008; Beloit Turner, No. 2,573; East Troy, No. 3,884; and Milton, No. 4,095.

Janesville’s Craig High School ranked 5,297, and Parker High School was 7,810.

To see the complete list, visit the U.S. News & World Report website.

U.S. News & World Report based its rankings on six weighted factors, including college readiness, 30%; reading and math proficiency, 20%; reading and math performance, 20%; underserved student performance, 10%; breadth of college curriculum, 10%; and graduation rates, 10%.

Reading and math proficiency is based solely on state tests. Reading and math performance is also based on state tests, but the score is also compared with what U.S. News predicted for a particular school with its demographic characteristics in its state, according to a news release from U.S. News.

“There is a very positive statistical relationship between the proportion of its student body that is black, Hispanic and/or from a low-income household … and a school’s results on state assessments. Schools performing best on this ranking indicator are those whose assessment scores far exceeded U.S. News’ modeled expectation,” the release states.

Williams Bay High School frequently has done well in the rankings, school district Superintendent Wayne Anderson said.

Anderson cited great teachers, small class sizes, diligent attention to graduation rates and community support as the primary reasons the district—and the high school—excel.

“Small class sizes has been something our school board has always stressed,” Anderson said.

Four-year-old kindergarten classes have a teacher-pupil ratio of 15 to 1, and all have teachers’ aides. Five-year-old kindergarten through fifth-grade classes have a teacher-pupil ratio of 20 to 1. High school classes are also close to 20 to 1, he said.

Smaller class sizes are good for academics and help teachers get to know their students, he said. Tutoring and additional math and reading assistance in the early grades get students ready for more rigorous standards in high school.

“The community has always had high expectations of the schools,” Anderson said.

At the same time, residents have been willing to give the district what it needs, he said.

“When we needed a new elementary school, the community stepped forward,” he said.

Jerry Schuetz, director of operations for the Milton School District, said several factors helped the district perform well in the rankings.

“We have an amazing staff,” Schuetz said. “The teachers are very dedicated; they engage students and families on an individual level.”

The district is committed to “academic rigor,” Schuetz said, but it’s the teachers’ relationships with students that make the difference.

Schuetz has two children at the high school, so he also speaks from a parent’s perspective.

“The teachers care so much about the students,” he said. “They care about the students’ academic success, their social success and their well-being. That’s the kind of environment where students are going to be successful.”

Obituaries and death notices for April 30, 2019

Doris “Dorrie” Alff

Thomas Michael Chesney

Timothy L. Garland

Jeffrey J. Krueger

Dr. Kenneth Laughery, Ph.D.

John A. Sanderson Jr.

Michael J. Spoden

Timothy Paul Swatek

Susan Walsh 

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein speaks at the Installation Ceremony for the new U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington in Arlington, Va., Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Morry Gash 

Milwaukee Brewers' Jesus Aguilar celebrates his three-run home run with Lorenzo Cain (6) during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Monday, April 29, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)