While nothing was resolved, residents vowed to “take their lake back” and made it clear the law enforcement division of the DNR had lost all respect of those using the lake and accused officers of violating the laws themselves. One individual’s comment was construed closely to being a threat to officers and was handled by local authorities immediately.
While the majority of comments towards the DNR’s actions so far this summer on enforcing state boating laws were negative, there were a few individuals who asked questions regarding the law and sought clarification.
The meeting was held at the conclusion of the Syracuse Lake Association’s annual breakfast/meeting. The number attending the annual meeting doubled in size when the meeting was turned over to hear information regarding issues involving boat users and law enforcement officers actions with the DNR
Kubacki, who spearheaded the gathering, stated comments she has received have gone from one extreme to another and she is attempting to reach a balance so individuals can enjoy the lake safely.
While she asked individuals present be respectful and considerate, the request went unheeded by many. She also asked individuals to use the state provided complaint form to address specific issues.
Lt. John Karris, commander of District One office of the DNR, took the brunt of all the accusations and questions. He stated it was the department’s role to enforce the state and federal laws relating to boating and natural resources. He admitted that the DNR may have approached their role not in the best way.
“I think where we fell down was our lack of communication to you folks,” he stated. He also acknowledged there are a lot of issues himself and other commanders in the district “need to resolve with you folks,” and asked those present to keep their questions general and also encouraged the official complaint forms be used. He did admit that getting conflicts resolved was a slow process as some complaints made two to three weeks ago are just now appearing on his desk. But he promised those situations will get resolved.
Karris stated the DNR has attempted to get the message out to the public that they will be aggressively enforcing the boating laws. Kubacki had backed that statement by reading an email she had received from a Tippecanoe Lake resident who noted they had been informed by the DNR there would be stricter enforcement this year.
Individuals referred to the DNR’s enforcement as turning the lakes into a police state. Resident stated the DNR are using various excuses to stop a boat to look for alcohol and individuals are no longer going out for an evening cruise, accusing officers of using binoculars to spy on boaters. “We don’t like it. Think about it and react appropriately,” stated Michael Kubacki.
Dick Essig stated this is a recreation area where people like to go out and enjoy themselves. He suggested that based on the attendance, the DNR has gotten their message across and now it was “time to back off.”
This was met with applause.
Another individual sarcastically thanked the DNR for keeping his kids safe on the lake, as they now have gone from driving a boat at 4 miles per hour to The Frog or The Channel Marker, to driving on the roadways. The individual stated he would rather have his kids be hit by another boat at 4 mph than a vehicle at 60 mph. “You are putting my kids in danger now.” The individual also stated he would have more respect for the officers if they would let an individual go who tested .01 percent over the legal limit than to arrest that person. “Congratulations my kids are more at risk!”
Karris was interrupted numerous times negatively by those present during his attempt to answer questions or respond to comments. Many times his responses could not be heard due to the chorus of negative opinions being voiced.
Areas noted were: the right of officers to question someone’s actions on a pier, the appropriate use of lights on boats at night, proper spacing of stickers, officers using binoculars to watch boaters or sitting at the mouth of channels from eating establishments waiting on boaters, and what is needed to stop a boater by an officer. Also asked was if it was legal to allow a child to sit on a boat driver’s lap during operation of the boat and if personal flotation devices had to be laying on deck where they could fly off the boat.
Several individuals accused the DNR of ruining their businesses and the lives of their employees because of the enforcement actions that have resulted in less business.
One resident did encourage individuals with specific issues to speak directly to an officer, one on one. While she noted she was not told what she wanted to hear, the situation was resolved that they would agree to disagree. When she thanked the officers for serving, there was a round of applause from the silent supporters.