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Muskego, Wind Lake residents hope officials ditch drainage tax proposal

Expanded district could include Muskego and New Berlin

Sept. 10, 2012

Muskego - Wind Lake folks are mad and Muskego residents are worried, all because of a bid by an agency that many of them never heard of that is taking steps toward taxing them.

It's the Norway Dover Farm Drainage District, which keeps a drainage infrastructure of canals working to drain Wind Lake and its watershed into the Fox River. Because the watershed is so flat, the 49 miles of canals and the major water highway - the Wind Lake canal - have to be dredged or cleared of silt and brush.

The drainage district board decided that everyone in the watershed benefit from the watershed draining properly, so they should have to help pay for that work, starting with the Wind Lake and other areas.

Some 300 people packed an information meeting in Norway last week on the prospect. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4 in Sturtevant, and the Drainage District Board will make a decision after that.

Spreading the burden

John Knuteson, attorney for the drainage district, said that when one area of the system isn't working right, it affects all in the system.

"The question is who is contributing water, and people from the watershed are contributing water," he said.

Annexing more than 3,000 properties would nearly double the district's size in terms of the number of families and businesses in the district. Also, if the Wind Lake area is annexed, district officials said Muskego and a good chunk of New Berlin are next.

Right now, the tax amounts to only $20 to $25 per home, the crowd at the Norway Town Hall was told.

"Today that's what it is, but what about later?" asked Kathy Aron, executive director of the Wind Lake Management District and owner of a lake management consulting business.

The district is talking about dredging 6 or 7 feet of sediment in the lower half of the Wind Lake canal, she said. The district dredged the top half in the late 1990s, and before that the whole thing in the 1950s.

District board members could not be reached for cost estimates for that massive project, how much it would impact homes and businesses, or whether some of the money is already factored into the district's $1.4 million levy for 2013.

Questioning the benefit

Wind Lake is fighting annexation into the drainage district because of doubts that homes and businesses benefit that much from it, Aron said. They also say that the sod farms that she said contribute huge amounts of water to the system benefit the most and do the most to clog the system with sediment and water during storms.

Water from the farms adds onto rainwater and fills up the system so the lake can't drain through the canal, she said. As a result, yards and occasionally basements flood once in a while because the lake literally overflows, she said.

Also, if the area had stayed as wetlands, much of the sediment would be taken care of naturally, and nobody would be talking about dredging, she said.

The eventual plan to annex the entire watershed would add most of Muskego and parts of New Berlin as far as the City Center at Moorland Road and National Avenue. Aron contends that it might be a stretch to say that homes and businesses that far away benefit from the Norway Dover Farm Drainage District.

"Some question whether being in the watershed means you automatically benefit," Aron said.

One of them is Tom Zagar, Muskego conservation coordinator, who said, "The question is how much benefit they're getting."

The district doesn't have to prove properties benefit to annex them, Aron noted. The only way to make the district prove it benefits properties appears to be by taking it to court, she said.

People can file objections and the board is supposed to consider them, but Aron said the district board appears to be determined to annex.

NEXT STEPS

WHAT: information meeting on annexing Wind Lake and other areas into the Norway Dover Farm Drainage District

WHEN: 6 p.m. Sept. 18

WHERE: Dover Town Hall, 4110 S. Beaumont Ave., Kansasville

WHAT: public hearing on the proposed annexation

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4

WHERE: Racine County Ives Grove building, 14200 Washington Ave., Sturtevant,

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