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Emma-Stocking-Bottle lakes sever affiliation with COLA

Upper and Lower Bottle lakes are part of a combined lake association that recently voted not to continue membership in the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations. Lower Bottle Lake, at the bottom of the picture, was identified as having deteriorating water quality in a recently conducted study. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Members of the Emma-Stocking-Bottle Lake Association voted recently at their annual meeting to sever ties with COLA after 2012.

The vote, according to many who spoke on the condition they not be named, was as close as it was contentious.

ESB is one of 30 lake associations that belong to the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations, a watchdog organization that works to enhance water quality and education.

When asked if the lake residents might regret the decision in light of a recent study indicating Lower Bottle Lake's water quality was declining, ESB president Tim Dwight said, "No. I mean it was a democratic decision. It wasn't something that the board did."

Dwight sent a letter to COLA president Dan Kittilson, apparently informing him the lake association might reconsider in 2013. Both sides declined to provide the letter to the Enterprise.

"We did have a vote at our annual meeting and decided not to extend our membership in COLA in 2013, " said ESB vice president Cathy Bosch.

"It was a difficult vote, there was a lot of pros and cons to COLA that obviously (people) liked or didn't like and it wasn't an easy decision," she said.

The annual lake association meeting did not address the declining water quality of Lower Bottle, Bosch said.

"Not everybody agrees with us," Kittilson acknowledged. "Any issue, I think, you can't have 100 percent agreement but we do have strong support of our lake associations."

Some members of the ESB association said they were unhappy that COLA entered a lawsuit over boat slips at a Fifth Crow Wing Lake PUD, then asked lake associations to help defray $41,000 in legal fees.

"The original mission of COLA was to foster appropriate and legal use of our lakes and watersheds," Kittilson said. "That's been their mission since its inception and really, we've refined that some but it hasn't really changed all that much. The Shoreland Management Ordinance is what protects our lakes. We just want the county to follow the ordinance.

"We feel that people have rights with their properties but within those standards. Recently we have been more aggressive, our actions have been stronger," Kittilson agreed.

According to COLA records, ESB has not been involved at regular COLA meetings since 2007 and doesn't have a liaison appointed to the larger group.

Kittilson said the ESB association has also not been involved in a watercraft inspection program that other lakes are aggressively funding to keep Aquatic Invasive Species from invading any Hubbard County lakes.

This year $82,500 was raised to pay 13 inspectors to check boats launched at high profile access points. Compliance with state laws is mandated.

One of those points is at the public access at Lake Emma. Kittilson said even though the ESB association did not contribute to the inspector, the Little and Big Sand lakes, which are connected to Emma and the Bottles, thought the Emma access was such a vital spot, it needed inspection to protect the entire chain.

"We've put 80 hours of inspection there as a watershed partnership, so we've done that for them," Kittilson said. "We felt that access has an impact on our lakes. "

One lake association member who did not attend the ESB meeting said she wished proxy voting had been allowed. If it had, she said the vote to leave COLA might have turned out differently.

Kittilson said there are no hard feelings, but he wished members of the ESB association had met with COLA before its decision.

"We welcome them to come to COLA if they want to attend any time with open arms."

The 29 other lake associations have strongly supported COLA and unanimously agreed it should be involved in the legal fight that challenged actions of Hubbard County's Board of Adjustment in 2010, Kittilson pointed out.

Sarah Smith

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

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