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This article was published 25/7/2016 (1213 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘There’s three sides to every story. Their side, our side and what comes out in the middle."
— Reeve Raymond Garand of the RM of Alexander
In a bid to keep zebra mussels out of Gull Lake, a group of well-meaning residents has divided the cottage community and may have left it even more vulnerable than ever to the invasive species.
Last year, residents and current and former members of the Gull Lake Basin Management Board installed a gate at the only public boat launch at the lake, about 70 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. The plan was to open the gate for two hours on Saturdays and Sundays and to closely monitor the boats entering the lake. But that left backlot residents wanting to use the lake with limited options.
"We’ve shut off all entrances to the lake except that boat launch," said Gull Lake cottager Don Minty. "There’s only one entrance now, with the exception of private property."
Fear of a zebra mussel infestation led residents to take action — a group including Minty, Jim Ritchie and Doug Curtis pooled their resources and installed the gate at a cost of around $5,000.
"The group here around the lake formed a plan," Curtis said. "No, it wasn’t a concrete plan, no, it probably wasn’t the best plan, but it was a plan. We had a gate on the boat launch so that before anybody could get on the boat launch they had to contact somebody with a key and we would deal with that. We went so far as to buy a $5,000 pressure washer. Apparently, one of the ways to eliminate the zebra mussels off the boat is 90 C water. And so we went that route."
The group decided to close the gate except for the short two-hour window on weekends for the remainder of the summer. During those times, they would volunteer their time to inspect and decontaminate boats entering the lake.
But the plan meant many Gull Lake residents with backlot property and taxpayers from the RM of Alexander and RM of St. Clements couldn’t launch their boats on the lake. The board’s action plan "encourage(s) all non-lakefront cottagers/residents to make watercraft mooring arrangements with their lakefront neighbours and/or at road allowances," according to correspondence between the board and stakeholders.
Because of the animosity over how the gate would be operated, the RM of Alexander took down the gate. Council, initially in favour of the gate, asked for the group and board to come up with a plan to operate it. The RM found too many flaws in the plan and voted to remove it. Reeve Raymond Garand said currently there’s no plan to put the gate back up.
"It has to be in the best interest of ratepayers, whether that’s in the RM of Alexander or RM of St. Clements — everyone has to be treated fairly," Garand said.
"It’s got to be open seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day."
Shane Zakaluk’s family has lived at Gull Lake for generations — his grandfather built the house he lives in. Zakaluk said he can see the boat launch from his kitchen window, but when the gate was up, he couldn’t take his boat into the lake.
"I think the gate should be up there and there should be some method to allow public access by those who are trained and understanding of the risks involved in using this body of water, but we should be able to have (access) at all times," Zakaluk said.
"We have a lot of individuals around the lake who are nurses, who are police officers, firefighters who work shift work. If they don’t have the ability to see the access on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and Thursdays when they don’t have to work, making it just for weekends for a few hours, and saying, ‘you can only go at this time of day on a Saturday and this time on a Sunday to put a boat in and then at this time of year to take the boat out,’ it isn’t reasonable."
Zakaluk said he wants something to be done to protect the lake. He said one solution would be to have a lock box with a key to the gate and sell the code to people who know the rules and want to use the lake. The fee would be used to maintain the program. But Zakaluk said his ideas were shut down.
"At this point it does feel around the lake very much like (lake)front versus backlot, which is unfortunate," he said. "It’s really dividing the community. Everyone really cares about the environment of our lake. We all know whether you’re frontlot or backlot, if there are zebra mussels in it, all of our property values are going to drop significantly and all the value we have in those properties is going to be gone. We don’t want to see anything bad happen but the assumption right now that you can trust a lakefront property owner to make sure their friends aren’t going in the water with infected boats, but you can’t trust the backlot to do that is really hard to understand and hard to not create separation and issues within the community."
Meanwhile, the division is also mirrored between the two rural municipalities surrounding the lake. The RM of St. Clements is all for having a gate at the boat launch, according to Mayor Debbie Fiebelkorn.
"We were not pleased the gate was removed," Fiebelkorn said, adding around 90 per cent of Gull Lake is in her rural municipality, while the remaining properties are in the RM of Alexander.
While the Gull Lake issue is not on the agenda, Fiebelkorn said she anticipated it would come up during council’s next meeting. She also said she hopes to have more discussions with Garand and the adjacent municipality.
Garand said he hopes the situation will work itself out.
"I’m strongly hoping this issue will go away, but it probably won’t," Garand said. "We’re under the gun to the point of exhaustion."
Meantime, Minty said the RM of Alexander has not returned the gate and will not respond to attempts to co-ordinate a pick-up time.
Updated on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 8:54 PM CDT: fixed headline spelling
8:57 PM: fixed spelling
9:03 PM: fix cutline