Attorney recommends against dredging Pigeon Lake
Says residents weren’t properly notified
By Erik Buchinger
The Pigeon Lake Rehabilitation and Protection District was advised to cancel plans to move forward with a previously approved $2 million dredging of Pigeon Lake.
Attorney Keith Steckbauer, who was hired to represent the board, spoke to a group during the Nov. 15 meeting at Fox Valley Technical College in Clintonville.
“There isn’t going to be the dredging,” Steckbauer said. “That is going to be my recommendation to the board. There isn’t going to be dredging, and there isn’t going to be the $2 million project. It’s unfortunate to not take advantage of something during that draining – that’s the board’s position – but at the end of the day, it’s not going to happen.”
Steckbauer began by addressing concerns regarding whether it was a conflict of interest for him to represent the board in addition to being the city attorney for Clintonville.
“I understand there might be that perception, but there is not a legal conflict of interest,” Steckbauer said.
Steckbauer said he reviewed Supreme Court rules and found no legal issue with representing the board.
Steckbauer said there were two reasons he advised the board not to move forward with the project, which resulted in an 85-71 vote to approve dredging Pigeon Lake on Oct. 16. One was the public not being properly informed, and the other had to do with a mapping error from the county, according to Steckbauer.
“In a very confusing statute, there were notice requirements that simply weren’t met,” Steckbauer said.
According to Steckbauer, the statute that controls lake districts is unusual.
“If you live in the district, they can publish a notice that is sufficient to you,” Steckbauer said. “For anybody who doesn’t live in the district, they would have to get a letter. Or you can do a mailing to everyone.”
Publishing the Class 2 notice 14 days beforehand would be a sufficient notification for those who live in the district, but the board would then have had to send out letters to anybody who owns property but does not live in the district.
“Basically it’s saying if we put it in the [newspaper] and you live there, you have an obligation to see what’s in the paper and that should notify you,” Steckbauer said. “You also have to still then write letters to everyone who owns property.
“No matter what, realistically you’re going to have to have a publication notice in that situation and a mailing notice because I couldn’t imagine there would ever be a situation where everybody would live in the district.”
Steckbauer said he did not blame the board for being unable to understand the statute due to its uniqueness, calling it “a bizarre process.”
“It is a very confusing statute, and I don’t blame this board of essentially volunteers for struggling with implementing and understanding of that statute,” Steckbauer said. “To ask a group of volunteers essentially to always get it right I think is asking a lot. Perhaps they should have hired an attorney sooner than later. That’s generally good advice, but they didn’t and we have to deal with what’s presented.
“It just wasn’t done right, and it’s unfortunate it wasn’t,” Steckbauer said.
Steckbauer said even if the notifications to the district and community were handled perfectly, there would still have been an issue.
“If I was hired after that meeting based on what we learned shortly thereafter, we’d be exactly where we are today,” Steckbauer said. “After that meeting was done in October, [Pigeon Lake President Dennis Krueger] went to the county to confirm maps and make sure everything was right for the next step, and the county advised the district the maps were in error.”
According to Steckbauer, the county was not properly updating the records as to who is in the district.
“Basically what happened is at that meeting, there were some people invited, knew about it and saw the notices that were probably not lawfully able to vote,” Steckbauer said. “At the same token, there were probably people who should have been notified and were not.”
Steckbauer said the issue would have come to light at some point.
“If I was retained after the fact and as we got to gear up and get to the point of the physically borrowing of the money, I think a problem would have arose,” Steckbauer said. “I don’t believe that you could have a lawful annual meeting with that significantly of an incorrect map.”
Board members said the county is in the process of correcting the district lines.
“I think because of the notice issue coupled with the mapping issue from the county, I don’t think in my opinion the Oct. 16 meeting was valid,” Steckbauer said.
According to Steckbauer, there will not be a tax placed on anybody’s tax roll in the district in 2019.
“Secondly, realistically I doubt there can be an annual meeting done to borrow money to do this $2 million project by the time the water fills up,” Steckbauer said. “I just don’t think it can be done.”
Steckbauer said the board “acted in good faith” in attempting to notify the public.
“The purpose of that letter was to provide information to try and be transparent,” Steckbauer said. “Anybody can agree or disagree, but that’s my perspective from the communication I had with the different board members. They wanted to be transparent, and everybody should have had the chance to vote. That didn’t happen. An opportunity in some people’s perspective was lost, and a taxation from other people’s perspective is avoided.”
Another meeting of the Pigeon Lake Rehabilitation and Protection District will be held Wednesday, Nov. 28, with the re-scheduled annual meeting to be held Wednesday, Dec. 19.