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E. coli in Pell Lake?

Town chairman places warning sign 'just to be safe'

August 11, 2010 | 08:56 AM
Bloomfield — Few people love the Pell Lake beaches more than Rich Olenoski.

Recently, he installed signs at the two beaches which state the rules in the hopes people follow them so children can enjoy the rest of the summer in the sand and the sun.

But other efforts by Olenoski were behind another beach sign placed Monday — one warning people to swim at their own risk.

The threat could be E. coli, a potentially life-threatening bacterium also considered to be a common indicator of fecal contamination.

Olenoski said he collected water samples July 21 and Aug. 3 at the north beach, near North Lake Shore Drive and Thistle Road, and the south beach, near Old Roller Rink Park.

The numbers prompted Olenoski and Town Chairman Ken Monroe to place a warning sign at the north beach.

"There's an abundance of geese there," Olenoski said. "It's not clean water, so we were afraid. The only way to find out if there's any E. coli or anything like that is to have tests done."

Olenoski said he paid the Genoa City Public Works Department to test the samples. He said the samples at the north beach clearly indicate it should be closed.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's unsafe for people to be swimming there," Olenoski said.

Although Monroe said he's not entirely convinced by Olenoski's tests, he obtained the warning signs from Walworth County "just to be safe."

"It's just a way to let people know there's a possibility of high E. coli in the lake, at least until we have another test done," Monroe said.

Kill the messenger?

Olenoski said it's his love of Pell Lake and his desire to keep people safe that's prompting what could be bad news for the beaches the rest of the summer.

"If somebody gets sick or hurt or anything happens to them in that lake, they're going to come back to the town and sue them," he said.

According to Olenoski, some people have accused him of trying to shut down the beaches.

However, he said he has been involved in several beach improvement projects.

He also is a member of the Pell Lake Sportsmen's Club, which played a role in the recent move by the state Department of Natural Resources to stock the lake with more than 2,000 northern pike.

Olenoski said his love of Pell Lake and witnessing all the geese droppings prompted concerns from him, his wife Darlene and his neighbors.

"People don't want to swim there, so we were afraid," he said.

"(Darlene and I) have been swimming in the lake for years. But now, with the geese and all these droppings … you can smell it in the water."

That's why Olenoski collected the samples.

He said he paid $20 a sample to have Kathy Laubinger, of the Genoa City Public Works Department, run the tests.

Laubinger was unavailable for comment this week.

According to Olenoski, the measurement used to determine how much bacteria is in the samples is cfu — colony-forming units.

The range for the advisory level is between 236 and 1,000 cfu.

"Anything over 1,000 they recommend closing," Olenoski said.

The July 21 sample at the north beach came back 2,419 cfu.

The Aug. 3 sample came back 2,419.6 cfu.

As for the south beach, the July 21 sample registered at 218.7 cfu.

But the lake's tested weekly

Monroe said he's not sure if the samples collected by Olenoski are valid.

"We don't know how it was tested," Monroe said.

He said there is a protocol that anyone collecting water samples has to follow. Monroe said he's not sure if Olenoski followed that protocol. The location of the sample is part of that protocol.

Besides, according to Monroe, the lake water is tested every week by the Pell Lake Sanitary District.

"Every week, the district collects a water sample for me and I send it to Walworth County," Monroe said. "We've been doing that for three or four years. It's just something the district asked me if I wanted them to do."

Now, Monroe said town officials will discuss having another test conducted.

At this point, it's uncertain if the beaches will be closed.

However, Monroe said between 10 and 15 years ago — back when he was a Town Board supervisor — the beaches were closed for about two weeks.

"That's when the water was stagnant and we had super hot weather," he said. "The lake level was down."

But if there's one thing Olenoski and Monroe agree on, it's that there is a goose problem on Pell Lake.

"If you go down there to the lake, it's just terrible," Monroe said.

"I'd say there could be at least a couple hundred at one time. … During the spring, they just hang out down there (and goose droppings) run into the lake. I'll be checking with the DNR on how to handle it."

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