Posted By JerriCook on September 29, 2016
September 26, 2016
Enclosed please find an Open Letter to the Rib Lake Town Board concerning the impending vote to open all township roads to mass, unrestrained ATV use. Your property value and your quality of life could be adversely impacted by this decision.
I hope you will either attend the October 12, 2016 meeting of the Board or contact a Supervisor if you cannot attend, and let them know your position on this matter. The meeting is at the Rib Lake Town Hall across from Zondlos’s Bar at 7:00 pm.
Below is the contact information for the Chairman of the Rib Lake Board and the Supervisors. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Chairman Joe Knorn
N8650 State Hwy 102
Rib Lake WI 54470
Supervisor Ben Kauer
W1224 Wood Lake Ave
Rib Lake WI 54470
Supervisor Tom Wendt
9518 Spirit Lake Rd.
Rib Lake WI 54470
J.L. Cook, juris doctor
N7330 Evergreen Dr.
Rib Lake Township
September 26, 2016
Rib Lake Town Board
Chairman Joe Knorn
N8650 State Hwy 102
Rib Lake, WI 54470
Re: An Open Letter to the Rib Lake Town Board
During the September 14, 2016 meeting of the Rib Lake Town Board, Supervisor Tom Wendt stated that Scott Zondlo wanted to address the board concerning the opening of all township roads to ATV traffic, but he could not attend. Supervisor Wendt then talked about the current ATV problem on Evergreen Dr. At the end of that discussion, Supervisor Wendt left his seat and approached me with a card. No one else was offered a card. He explained that the card belonged to a local DNR warden who I could call if I experienced any further issues with ATV traffic now that the requested signage has been installed.
As he handed me the card, Supervisor Wendt tapped it and said, “He’s in favor of opening all the roads, too.” These were the exact words that both myself and my husband heard Supervisor Wendt speak. From the context, we reasonably understood that Supervisor Wendt had spoken to the DNR warden personally. How else would Mr. Wendt have come by the card he handed to me if not from the warden? We now know the answer, but it raises further questions that I urge the Board to address.
On September 15th, I contacted Bryan Harrenstein, the DNR warden whose card was given to me by Supervisor Wendt. I explained to Warden Harrenstein that a supervisor had given me the card, but I did not know the gentleman’s name. I relayed the statement made by Supervisor Wendt, again stressing to Warden Harrenstein that at the time of the phone call, I did not know the name of the supervisor who gave me the card. The Warden replied, “It doesn’t matter because that’s not what I said.”
At no point during the conversation did Warden Harrenstein offer the name of the person he spoke with. I felt the Warden was being evasive. Now, Warden Harrenstein claims that he told me he spoke to Scott Zondlo. I’m not prone to incompetence. Warden Harrenstein never told me who he spoke with during our initial conversation. Had he done so, this letter wouldn’t be necessary. While I was willing to chalk the whole thing up to a misunderstanding, what followed causes me deep concern.
On September 16th, Warden Harrenstein contacted me via telephone to discuss my earlier email to him, a copy of which I mailed to each of you. The Warden explained that he is new to the area and has recently moved to Rib Lake Township. He told me that Mr. Zondlo stopped by his residence after work hours to introduce himself and welcome Warden Harrenstein to the community. The two then talked about my issues with local ATV traffic. The Warden gave his DNR business card to Mr. Zondlo, who gave it to Supervisor Wendt to give to me.
During our conversation, Warden Harrenstein indicated that as a result of their meeting at his residence, he believes Mr. Zondlo has an official relationship with the Rib Lake Town Board. Specifically, he claims to believe that Mr. Zondlo is an official representative of the Board in some capacity involving ATV use. However, Warden Harrenstein could not recall how he came to that understanding. If, in fact, Mr. Zondlo does have an official relationship with the Board, I am requesting that you disclose it now.
During my initial phone conversation with Warden Harrenstein, he was adamant that as a representative of the State, he is neutral on the ATV use issue, saying, “Listen to what I’m telling you. Write it down.” I did. According to him, he contacted Supervisor Wendt immediately after receiving my email. Supervisor Wendt then told Warden Harrenstien that he was representing Scott Zondlo at the meeting. I am asking the Board to disclose the extent and nature of Supervisor Wendt’s representation of Scott Zondlo. How many other times has Supervisor Wendt represented Mr. Zondlo in his capacity as Supervisor?
Supervisor Wendt is in a position to adversely affect his neighbor’s property value, impact their quality of life, as well to increase the well-documented spread of invasive plants caused by ATV use. At no time during the September 14th meeting did Supervisor Wendt indicate that he was in fact the representative of Scott Zondlo. Supervisor Wendt did, however, say that he is in favor of opening all the roads to ATV traffic. His reason is staggeringly incoherent and irresponsible.
According to Supervisor Wendt, all of the township’s roads should be open to mass ATV use because, “everyone’s doing it.” This was his exact response when challenged. It’s confusing because at the August meeting, Supervisor Wendt voted to penalize another group who was also breaking the law. It seems that the township had a problem with illegal dumping. Everyone was doing it. Yet, unlike the blatant lawbreaking by many area ATV owners, Supervisor Wendt voted to curtail unauthorized garbage drop-off and penalize those in non-compliance. How did he come to the conclusion that one “everybody’s doing it” activity is less desirable than the other?
The proponents of ATV use on all township roads claim that it will help area tourism. This claim is demonstrably false on its face. In the September 20, 2016 edition of the Shopper, an ad appears inviting area enthusiasts to meet at Zondlo’s bar and bring a dish to pass. The ad goes on to request a donation of five dollars to the local ATV clubs.
It is clear that this ATV “ride” was not intended to attract out-of-area tourists. The advertisement appears in a local paper, and asks guests to bring a dish to pass. There is no evidence that the ad appears in any other publication outside Taylor County. What sightseer has the wherewithal to load up their ATV, drive for hours, and then take time out to make a hotdish to share? Clearly, the intent is to indulge local ATV buffs, not to attract out-of-area visitors.
Next, local ATV clubs claim that their activity helps area businesses. Another bag of bull feathers. The ad in the Shopper clearly states that participants would be eating at Zondlo’s bar, with a suggested donation of $5.00 to the area’s ATV clubs. Businesses in the village didn’t benefit at all from this event, nor did any worthy community organization. The only business that profited was Zondlo’s Bar. The only local group that profited was the ATV clubs.
There is no evidence at all to show that mass ATV use aids the local economy. How has opening part of the township’s roads to ATV use helped other businesses, like the area’s dairy farmers? Did the ATV clubs or the one business that profits wildly from local ATV traffic step forward to assist farmers when the bottom fell out of the milk prices? If so, I ask the Rib Lake Town Board to invite these beneficiaries to come forward. Ask them to attend the October meeting and share with everyone how they have benefited from having hundreds of ATVs cruising past their farms.
It is not ATV use but property value which is the most effective economic engine for area business. According to real estate professionals, a home on an ATV route is worth up to 25% less than comparable homes, depending on the proximity to the road. Township residents who were forced to allow ATVs by their home the last time the Board visited this issue, were divested of tens of thousands of dollars of their property value when the Supervisors voted to open some roads. Now, Supervisor Wendt, who is apparently the personal representative of an area business owner, wants to open all the Towns’ roads, effectively wiping out hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars of his neighbors’ wealth.
At the September meeting and in a subsequent phone conversation with me about this issue, Supervisor Kauer indicated that he favors opening a few more of the township roads to ATV traffic, specifically Peche and Trout. Those residents have apparently been found unworthy and will not be allowed to keep their hard-won property value. However, Supervisor Kauer did not disclose how he decided which neighbors would be sacrificed to the ATV gods.
While the hard-working people of Rib Lake Township are being asked to bow down to pressure from a local businessman and members of area ATV clubs, I’m being asked to give up my life. I suffer from an irreversible, deadly lung condition. When we first moved to the area, the traffic by our home was minimal, and air quality wasn’t an issue as my symptoms are well-controlled thanks to modern medicine. In the last twelve years however, we have seen an increase in traffic, causing me to have to stay inside during certain times of the day to avoid the dust and exhaust fumes that inundate my home. Now, Supervisor Wendt proposes to allow not a handful, not a few dozen, but literally hundreds upon hundreds of ATVs to come blazing past my home and my neighbors’ homes. Should this occur, I will become confined to my house. It would be an unconstitutional taking of my property.
To be clear, I’m in no way critical of Mr. Zondlo’s efforts on behalf of his business. He has good instincts and is merely doing what any other competent lobbyist would do—identify the local government officials who can help give you a leg up and try to influence their decisions. I am, however, highly critical of the elected officials who are swayed by such efforts. They are supposed to represent all the voters, not just one. I’m equally critical of any government employee who appears to favor one private interest over others.
Before the Board makes the decision to open more or even all of the township’s roads to ATV traffic or to close them altogether, perhaps it would be prudent to first do an assessment of how the current policy is working. How do the township’s residents who were forced to accept ATV traffic past their homes feel about it now? How has having the ATV route past their home improved their property values? How has the constant noise, traffic, dust, exhaust fumes and garbage improved their quality of life?
Once the board has gathered the information they will have four options:
1) Open more township roads to ATV traffic;
2) Open all township roads to ATV use;
3) Keep the number of accessible roads the same, or
4) Close all of the township’s roads to non-farm ATV use.
I request that the Board hold off taking any vote on this matter until those residents who will be adversely impacted can be notified. When I suggested that these residents should be notified of the impending vote, Chairman Knorn replied that he would put a notice of the meeting in the paper. A standard notice is wholly insufficient. Any notice should state the dire circumstances that homeowners in the township are facing, specifically the loss of up to 25% of their property value and the wholesale destruction of their quality of life.
To be clear, I’m asking the Board to 1) disclose any official relationship Scott Zondlo has with the Township; 2) explain Supervisor Wendt’s statement to Warden Harrenstein concerning Supervisor Wendt’s representation of Scott Zondlo, and 3) hold off voting on this issue until you establish a coherent criterion for your decision—something other than “everbody’s doing it.”
A digital copy of this correspondence can be found at JerriCook.com.
J.L. Cook, juris doctor
Cc: Supervisor Kauer
Selected Township Residents
- Miles Cudworth, Mitch Ulrich, John Pietrzak, Growing Concern of ATV Use at the County Level, (2009, June 9), SlideShare. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/Mcudworth/growing-concern-of-atv-use-at-the-county-level, September 23, 2016.