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Water level continues to rise on Lake Belle Taine

Lake Belle Taine is on the rise again.

One decade almost to the day after it rose to historic levels, the lake is once again flooding basements, swallowing up beaches and forcing property owners to put dock extensions into the water.

On a windy day, the causeway to Goat Island experiences waves lapping at the roadway.

The bridge leading to the island is perilously close to the water's surface again - and that's after it was raised 10 inches a decade ago.

Two of the proprietors of Campers' Paradise, located on the island, visited the Hubbard County board Wednesday to relay their concerns and urge the county to re-open discussions and dust off engineering studies prepared in 2002.

"It affects our sense of community and the economy," said Loni Swaggert Cochrane, daughter of the resort founders. The resort began its 51st year of operation this season.

"Water issues on the lake affect the houses, the cabins, the cottages," Cochrane told the board. "It's gonna happen again," she said of the flooding that all but closed the resort in 2001. The causeway and bridge were flooded that year.

Resort guests were ferried about on pontoons, but the resort was barely open that summer, Cochrane said.

The lake's drainage problems were never solved although two engineering groups, including the Army Corps of Engineers, prepared studies.

Numerous solutions such as giving the lake an outlet or drainage areas, were met by resistance from neighboring lake associations and homeowners being assessed to pay for the solution.

It was a political hot potato.

Cochrane and sister-in-law Lynn Swaggert went through the endless meetings, the heated discussions, the failure to reach consensus.

Then the lake began receding on its own and the hubbub died down.

It has changed course recently, however.

"It's gone up 26 inches since we closed down last fall," Swaggert told the board.

She said engineering predictions are coming true, that while the lake levels ebb and flow, the depth continues to increase over time. A permanent solution needs to be implemented, Swaggert urged.

"It's inevitable it's going to continue to cycle up," Cochrane said,

She remembers when, as a little girl, she could boat under the causeway bridge and stand up underneath it. Now the water level is 8 inches from the raised bridge deck.

An accountant, Cochrane began surveying her resort guests as to the economic impact they had on the region.

This year the resort has around 3,100 reservations from Memorial Day to Labor Day, its usual operating season. So far, guests are reporting an average of $300 spent in the neighboring towns of Dorset, Nevis, Walker ad Park Rapids per camping trip. That's a conservative estimate, she adds.

"It's a $1 million impact on the area," she said.

She doesn't want to think of what would happen if the lake continues to bulge out of its basin.

It's not just an issue affecting her business, she said, but also everyone on the lake. It's too important to ignore, she implored the commissioners.

Longtime resort guest Patty Miller, who rents Lot 58 on the northwest shore of the island, agrees.

"I've been coming here for 27 years," she said. "Our beach over at 58 is gone."

Miller remembers the days when the resort had to shuttle guests in and out by pontoon.

Some of the bad years, guests simply left their trailers over the winter so they could come back.

"The ball field turned into a cattail swamp," Miller remembers.

Over at Beauty Bay Lodge across the lake, water laps over a paver stone walkway. There, too, the beach has disappeared.

At Belle Shores Resort, co-owner Erna Johnson said there's nothing right now her family can do to stop the rising waters and it's not quite time to sandbag.

"We've pulled our docks and boat lifts in," she said. And the cresting waves have eroded sandbags placed a decade ago to shore up the shoreline.

A flower bed is beginning to erode, she said, but the resort hasn't lost any business yet.

But Belle Taine residents no longer espouse the theory that "what goes up must come down" any more.

The county board took the matter under advisement.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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