The future of Skunk Island is still up in the air.
The Beaver Dam Common Council on Monday considered an offer the buy to island for $1. The Beaver Dam Lake Development Corporation, which has been wrestling with what to do with the island for the past year, made the offer. The corporation’s members are appointed by Mayor Becky Glewen, but it is a separate entity from the city.
The council voted 12-0 to return the offer to the Operations Committee to figure out what the city should do with it and come up with a vision for it including what it might mean to make the island into a conservancy. Members Cris Olson and Mick Fischer were absent.
Council President Robert Ballweg, a member of the Operations Committee, made the proposal to return the measure to committee. The $1 offer to sell the island to the city has already moved through the Operations and the Administrative committee.
The island has been a popular spot for duck hunting on the lake and is used to store aeration equipment. The board closed off the island and put up no-trespassing signs a few years ago after a dispute over who should be allowed to hunt on the island and concerns over liability if someone were injured on the island and sued.
“I can’t speak for every board member, I believe there would be a broad consensus that the island should remain in the public sector,” said John Moser, chairman of the lake group.
Moser said that he is pleased with the constructive discussion the city is having about the island. The corporation set a deadline of April 1 to hear back from the city about its offer before considering other options, but Moser said that’s flexible, and now he will go back to see whether the board needs to meet again to move back the deadline or if it can be done informally. There is an election for odd-numbered council wards on April 2.
One of the major reasons the board had for offering the island to the city was that the city has greater protection from lawsuits. Under Wisconsin law, as a municipality, Beaver Dam has broad immunity from lawsuits if someone were injured, much more immunity than the corporation would have.
“We believe the city would be the best caretaker for the island because the city has recreational immunity from lawsuits,” Moser said. “It’s stronger than any the corporation could purchase.”
He said the corporation does not have the resources to open up the island to greater public use right now.
Glewen said that in looking at the corporation’s goals and by-laws, the intent would bring it back into the public use. However, she said, the city would need to strike an agreement with a group that will help care for Skunk Island. The Beaver Dam Conservationists have expressed an interest.
People who have used the island in the past have said that they fondly remember going out there and hunting with their friends and family, and hoped that it would be something they could continue in the future.
The island is in the unincorporated town of Beaver Dam. The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office and the Beaver Dam Fire Department cover, and will continue to cover, the island, officials have said.
The corporation receives money from the city to fund its operations, mainly paying to run aeration equipment that keeps oxygen flowing in the water during the winter to prevent fish kill.
Ballweg said he would want to add a deed restriction to turn the island into a conservancy. However, it was not clear at Monday night’s meeting whether that would mean the island could still be opened up more for public use.
Council member Ken Anderson said people would prefer a wild, open space to use as they did before Skunk Island was closed.
“My biggest question and concern right now is that there is no bigger plan for it,” said council member David Hansen. “I’m just a little concerned that we have no plan in place right now and we’re talking about resources in the future that we have other needs for.”