City’s new lake rules now in DNR’s hands

Council passes amended no-wake ordinance during lengthy meeting

Three of Lake Elmo’s four popular recreational lakes could see new no-wake and boat travel direction guidelines depending on a DNR review of the new ordinance approve by the City Council Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Lake Elmo)
Three of Lake Elmo’s four popular recreational lakes could see new no-wake and boat travel direction guidelines depending on a DNR review of the new ordinance approve by the City Council Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Lake Elmo)

LAKE ELMO — Hours of work by the Lake Elmo City Council Tuesday to fashion an amended no-wake ordinance governing four city lakes is now in the hands of the state.

City Administrator Dean Zuleger said the city will send its new no-wake ordinance affecting Lake Elmo, Lake Jane, Lake Olson and Demontreville Lake to the state Department of Natural Resources for review.

When Tuesday’s council meeting ended about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the panel unanimously passed an amended measure that maintains existing no-wake rules on Lake Elmo, provides different no-wake times on weekdays and weekends and holidays on Lakes Jane and Olson, restricts buoy placement on the lakes and requires ski boats and other fast watercraft to travel counterclockwise on lakes and canoes and other non-wake producing watercraft travel clockwise.

“The early indications are those different times might be a problem for the DNR,” Zuleger said.

He added that the direction rules are “common and recommended by some organizations like the American Water Ski Association.”

Zuleger said the council originally considered changing the city’s no-wake ordinance to open the four lakes to more recreational use. All four lakes are heavily used, with public boat launches on Lake Elmo, Jane and Demontreville.

“We have small, shallow lakes that get congested,” he said. “Anecdotally, if you would set up at a boat ramp at noon, it’s like that scene in ‘Jaws’ where everybody wants to go out and catch the shark.”

Zuleger said he received a “flurry” of last-minute input on the original proposal prior to Tuesday’s council meeting. The comments ran slightly more than 2-to-1 against the measure, he added.

Zuleger acknowledged that there was a generational split on the no-wake proposal, with older lake side residents supporting the existing rules and younger lake side residents wanting relaxed wake rules.

In an email to the council, Lake Elmo lake side residents Melissa and Tony Miller urged rejection of the proposed no-wake changes.

“By changing the current water surface use ordinances, you are negating an entire population of lake users,” the Millers write.

The couple argued that Lake Elmo’s current no-wake hours from sunset to noon divides lake use between quiet time in the mornings and high speed activities the rest of the day. The Millers also argued in favor of maintaining the counter-clockwise lake traffic direction provision.

“Lake Elmo is too narrow not to have this provision. As it is now, the lake is quite crowded on the weekends and the counter-clockwise provision at least lends to some semblance of order during these days. If boats can go any way, this would only lead to injuries, if not deaths,” the couple said.

Another group opposing the wake rule changes was a Catholic Carmelite monastery and retreat facility on  Lake Demontreville, according to Zuleger. He said the facility is used for reflective retreats on weekends and the city wants to respect the facility’s desire for quiet activities.

“We’re really going to work hard on people not from Lake Elmo to respect that Catholic complex,” he said. “That, to me, was one of the most compelling arguments made last night. They’ve been there 50 years.”

Zuleger also said the city plans stricter enforcement of parking rules, especially in the area of Demontreville Lake, where boaters park vehicles and trailers on streets, creating narrow space for through vehicles.

Zuleger said he believes most residents at Tuesday’s meeting were satisfied with the amended ordinance the council passed on a 5-0 vote.

“While not perfect, people left the room feeling like the council listened to them,” he said.

But Zuleger warned that the DNR could return the wake-rule measure to the council for possible changes.

“My guess is we might be looking at this again after the DNR review,” he said. “Local communities have control of those lakes within the community boundaries. But the DNR gets to comment. We’ll see what happens with the DNR review. They’ve been very good, from the city staff’s standpoint, to work with.”