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Time for Bloomfield people to step up, take ownership of their lakes

August 18, 2010 | 07:01 AM
A woman spoke so rapidly over the phone Monday it was as if she didn't need to breathe. She said herself, her children, her friend, her friend's children all have the symptoms of E.coli infection. Diarrhea, upset stomachs, severe fatigue — all after they swam in Pell Lake.

What's strange is they swam at the south beach, where tests on the samples collected by Rich Olenoski came back below the advisory level. The north beach is where these tests indicated the water has potentially dangerous levels of E.coli. That's why, last week, the town of Bloomfield posted a warning sign at the north beach.

So the woman on the phone either was swept up in the media frenzy over a possible E.coli outbreak in her local lake and is an eager victim, it's a coincidence and all these people just have the flu or there is a serious problem in Pell Lake.

Well, there's no media frenzy — yet — just one story in a newspaper with a circulation of less than 5,000. Yes, coincidences can happen, but how many people should fall ill before we can determine the need to test the lake? The reason Olenoski had the tests done was to prompt some kind of action from town officials because there are so many geese near the beaches, he said he could smell their droppings in the lake water.

I believe Bloomfield Town Chairman Ken Monroe when he says there will be another E.coli test on Pell Lake. I'm glad to hear he's consulting with two of the area's most knowledgeable when it comes to lakes — Audrey Greene, Walworth County's lake specialist, and Ted Peters, executive director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency.

However, the community also needs to assume ownership of its greatest assets — its lakes. The Bloomfield Town Board can only do so much, if that. Why? Because services cost money. You can demand officials to approve spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if the right amount of pressure is applied, officials will do what you ask, but don't be surprised if your taxes increase.

I believe that's why, historically, the town has taken somewhat of a hands-off approach to its lakes. There's five of them, by the way — Pell, Powers, Benedict, Tombeau and Ivanhoe lakes fall within Bloomfield's borders. Town officials are frugal with lake improvements. If it's within the budget, fine. If not, leave it to volunteers — people like Olenoski and organizations such as the Pell Lake Mud Hens and Sportsmen's Club. Thank them for stocking the lake with northern, harvesting weeds and posting signs so the beaches are safer.

See, the mentality also exists that, municipally speaking, lakes are like children. If one has a new pier, the other four are going to want one. On the other hand, what are you going to do with a sick child?

So people of Bloomfield, that's where you come in. If you want something done, band together. If you love your lakes, form a lake management district or some sort of committee to deal with issues such as possible E.coli outbreaks. If it costs money, raise funds to do it. Pursue grants. Find a revenue stream. There's strength in numbers.

I proposed this idea to Bill Markut, president of the Pell Lake Sanitary District, during a conversation Monday. He told me a committee was formed "about eight or nine years ago." According to Markut, the committee created a lake management plan and the hope was to secure Department of Natural Resources funding for lake improvements. When it became evident that DNR funding was no longer available, the committee dissolved. Markut said he and Olenoski were members. I'm not surprised.

Geneva Lake has the GLEA. Lake Como has the town of Geneva Lake Committee, which last year weighed in on a measure to control the goose population. There's something Lake Como and Pell Lake have in common — geese. That's the one thing Monroe and Oneloski agree is a problem on Pell Lake.

Personally, I've lost count of how many times I've had to stop my car on North Lake Shore Drive because of all the geese. Large flocks of them, marching across the road, exhibiting total disregard for pedestrian traffic laws. Like I said, strength in numbers.

Steve Targo is the assistant editor of the Regional News. He also spent half of his childhood in the Pell Lake area.

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