Incumbents Challenged for Re-electionPatrick Alexander The News Guard
Ballots for the May 17 election, which should start appearing in mailboxes on Saturday, April 30, will feature three contested races for the Devils Lake Water Improvement District board of directors — the body charged with planning for the health and vitality of Devils Lake.
With three incumbents all challenged in their bids for another four-year term, voters throughout Lincoln City as well as the entire watershed of Devils Lake will be able to mold the future of the five-member board.
Strayer v. Walker
For voters trying to choose between incumbent Director Jack Strayer and his challenger, Noel Walker, the choice boils down to one word — carp.
Walker said he is running to unseat Strayer because of the incumbent’s opposition to the District’s goal of adding more of the ravenous weed-eating fish to Devils Lake.
Walker, owner of Blue Heron Landing marina, said failing to add more carp would mean a return to the days when the lake was choked with weed.
“I’ve been here 26 years,” he said, “and when I first bought my place … the lake was in a real mess.”
The more than 32,000 sterile grass carp added to the lake between 1986 and 1993 have begun to die off and Walker predicts a dire future if the fish are allowed to disappear completely.
“I know we would have weeds back in a few years,” he said, “and that would be disastrous.”
Strayer, who has owned property on the lake since 1982, cast the lone vote in opposition to the Devils Lake Plan, which would see the District apply for permission to add more carp to the lake.
Such permission would require an exemption to state law, which prohibits the introduction of grass carp, which are a non-native species.
Strayer, who has served on the board since 2007, said the state regards the introduction of grass carp as “a failed proposal” that entirely eliminated the lake’s vegetation rather than simply reducing it.
“If you look at the bottom of the lake, it’s like a barren wasteland,” he said, “like the moon.”
Strayer said the lack of vegetation has fueled the growth of cyanobacteria blooms, which are the only things left that can feed on the lake’s nutrient-rich water.
He said the board should take another look at tackling the weed through mechanical, biological and chemical controls, which he said have advanced in recent years, with innocuous chemicals now an option.
“I don’t think the board has really taken the steps to analyze the best science available to us,” he said.
Strayer said allowing the return of managed aquatic vegetation could encourage a greater variety of wildlife at the lake, opening up greater potential for ecotourism.
Walker said the District cannot afford to pin its hopes on the emergence of another solution and must throw its effort into the grass carp application.
“In asking for permission for adding more carp we have to have a united front,” he said. “I don’t think it would serve us to have a member that expresses an opinion in opposition to what we were asking for.”
In his voters’ pamphlet statement, Walker says Strayer’s opposition to carp is motivated by a desire to improve conditions for bass, a species that requires vegetative cover in order to hunt.
Strayer rejected the idea, saying his objections stem from concerns about water quality.
“I have two grandchildren aged 2 and 4 who love to swim the lake,” he said, adding that kids and pets are the groups most vulnerable to toxic cyanobacteria.
Both men expressed concerns about the proposal that the District buy the old Union 50 building on S.E. 1st Street, with the aim of converting it into a Center for Applied Freshwater Education, or CAFÉ, holding the District offices as well as a lake education center.
Strayer said the project is “outside the scope” of the District’s responsibilities, while Walker said he would only be prepared to consider the idea if the District could get a “really good deal” on the property.
“It’s the lake that counts,” he said, “not education of the masses.”
Barnes v. Ward
Although Kip Ward’s name appears next to that of incumbent board Vice-Chair Joe Barnes on the ballot, Ward says he is not “running against” anybody.
“I just have a slightly different idea,” he said, “and either you want to buy into that or you don’t.”
Ward, owner of the Historic Anchor Inn and the only board candidate who does not own lakefront property, said he wants to see greater involvement from the Lincoln City community as a whole in the future of Devils Lake.
“If we didn’t have the ocean, I think we would take far better care of the lake and probably build our economy around it,” he said. “Right now, we treat the lake like the redheaded stepchild. Most people that come to Lincoln City don’t even know we have a lake.”
Ward, who described himself as a “struggling environmentalist but also a realist” said there is a wealth of scientific evidence that the community can put to use in improving water quality.
In some cases, he said, the solutions involve “undoing things we have done,” like replacing native vegetation on lakefront lots with lawns whose fertilizer contributes to the lake’s nutrient problem.
Ward said the community should also view the lake as a major economic draw.
He said economic activity does not have to conflict with environmental stewardship, with potential events including rowing meets and electric speedboat races.
“A healthy lake has all sorts of economic opportunities,” he said.
Ward said the CAFÉ concept is “a great idea” that would provide a home for the District as well as a visitor attraction for the community.
But he stressed that the idea would have to clear numerous hurdles before it could be deemed feasible.
Joe Barnes’ relationship with Devils Lake started more than 41 years ago, when, as a newborn, he spent his first night on this Earth in a lakefront home.
“I think I’ve been on the lake as long as or longer than anybody,” he said.
Growing up next to the lake gave Barnes a front row seat for the weed problem that choked the waterway in the mid ‘80s.
Barnes said it was memories of the weed that prompted him to put his name forward for appointment to a vacant board seat in January 2010.
“I wanted to make sure that they continue to go in a good direction regarding water quality,” he said. “It has been really pretty good.”
Barnes said the current board has “great momentum,” working toward an application to add more weed-eating carp to the lake as well as partnering with Lincoln City on a septic tank inspection ordinance.
He said Devils Lake is one of very few coastal lakes that is available for recreation precisely because of the steps taken by previous boards to tackle the milfoil invasion.
“If the milfoil comes back, the lake is unusable even for the non-motorized boats because of the smell,” he said. “I remember when I was a kid, if the wind was blowing toward the house, we had to keep the windows shut.”
Barnes has spearheaded the District’s exploration of the CAFÉ concept, saying the task fits well with his profession as a builder and developer.
He said having its staff in offices at the lakeshore would save the District time and money while the center’s proximity to the D River Wayside would make it a prime location for a lake education center.
Barnes said such a center would make the District more than just a body that taxpayers “have to write a check out to every year.”
“It will show some credibility to the finances that we are giving to the lake,” he said.
Pirie v. Weldon
When Randy Weldon put his name forward for appointment to a vacant board seat in September 2009, the avid water skier felt his “street knowledge” of the lake would be an asset.
“I’m on the lake a lot,” he said. “I’ve lived on the lake for 21 years.”
Now running for a full, four-year term, Weldon feels that getting permission to add more weed-eating carp to the lake is by far the most important task facing the board.
“Once weeds start getting a foothold it will be just a few years before our lake is fully congested with weed,” he said, adding: “Every other issue that we talk about on the board really won’t matter. Property values will plummet, lake use will plummet.”
Weldon said he can see the decline of the current crop of sterile carp from his home, saying he used to see 300 to 400 carp at a time but now sees just five or six.
He said carp are the only option for controlling weed on the lake, which he said is too large to treat mechanically. Also, he said, residents have made it clear that they oppose chemical treatments.
Weldon said he feels the District’s second priority should be tracking down failing septic tanks, which he feels are a major contributor of unwanted nutrients to the lake.
Opposing Weldon is Douglas Pirie, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coastal engineer.
Pirie, who has been a lakefront resident for seven years, said he has no major differences of opinion with the current directors and simply wants to offer his expertise to the board.
“I’m not an activist,” he said.
Pirie said the board needs to make decisions that will allow the lake to be used by a wide variety of recreationalists and by the entire community — not just lakefront property owners.
He said water quality is the biggest issue facing the lake and that while the carp program appears to have been successful at keeping the water clear of weed, the program could be modified to encourage more native vegetation.
Pirie, a frequent attendee at District meetings, said the board is often required to balance the conflicting needs of various groups including water skiers, who want as little weed as possible, and bass fishermen, for whom some aquatic vegetation is a boon.
“Then you get into the bureaucratic mess and whose ox you are going to gore?” he said.
Pirie said he was initially against the CAFÉ concept, feeling the District had no business getting into real estate.
However, he said he would have no problem with the idea if it can be executed at minimal long-term cost to the District’s taxpayers.
Weldon said he is glad the District is exploring the idea, although he is concerned that the proposed CAFÉ site is within the tsunami inundation zone.
He said he would hate to see the idea distract the District’s attention from its carp request, saying there would be no point in having an educational center on the shores of a lake that is clogged with weed.