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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Wes Watkins Reservoir to open without gate fee, effective July 1

  • Monday, Shawnee city commissioners approved transfer of Wes Watkins Reservoir recreational operations and management to the city of McLoud, beginning July 1; however, Thursday, Pottawatomie County Development Authority trustees said some unresolved issues must be addressed before the transfer. PCDA owns the ...
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  • Monday, Shawnee city commissioners approved transfer of Wes Watkins Reservoir recreational operations and management to the city of McLoud, beginning July 1; however, Thursday, Pottawatomie County Development Authority trustees said some unresolved issues must be addressed before the transfer.
    PCDA owns the lake and has managed the operations for the past several years. But last summer, the authority ran into some issues with its budget and needed the cities of Tecumseh and Shawnee to help make up the projected shortfall.
    PCDA was able to request the two cities pay the amount of the lacking revenue due to agreements that were made several years prior between the three entities. Shawnee was to pay 85 percent of the shortfall and Tecumseh was to pay 15 percent, if the need arose.
    The request, although Shawnee City Manager Brian McDougal said the city budgets about $100,000 annually for PCDA, came as a surprise to both city managers, they said. About the same time, a suggestion was made by McLoud City Manager Larry Dillon for that city to take over the recreational operations to save Shawnee and Tecumseh from paying as much each year and to help generate additional revenue at the lake.
    Dillon also said by McLoud handling operations there, taxpayers who had “already paid for the lake years ago” would be able to enjoy it — “to take their families for a picnic or walk around the lake” — without paying a gate fee.
    However, Dr. Joe Taron, PCDA chair, along with several other authority trustees, voiced concerns about whether a transfer of management to McLoud could threaten current tax-free bonds that Shawnee is repaying through a debt service securities agreement and whether such a transfer might damage the “pristine condition” of the lake.
    “Before anything happens, we will absolutely insist nothing threatens the security agreements or bonds,” Taron said.
    Shawnee entered the agreement when PCDA provided the city with about $3.8 million of the bonds left so the city could build an updated water treatment plant and begin using water from the reservoir.
    Taron also said a “new” agreement was signed in December 2008 that eliminated some of the terms of the original securities agreement but allowed PCDA to continue to operate and maintain the recreational facilities at the lake.
    Shawnee has rights to 85 percent of the water at the reservoir, while Tecumseh — which “has never taken one drop” of water from the reservoir, according to City Manager Jim Thompson — has rights to 15 percent.
    McDougal explained this week to city commissioners that Shawnee has the authority — per agreements made in earlier years — to choose who would maintain the lake. He said PCDA had “done an excellent job of maintaining the lake for 10 years” with revenues from fees charged at the lake and what was left of a $225,000 reserve from the bonds.
    Page 2 of 3 - Still, he said he and Thompson were concerned with how much those two cities were being asked to pay for operations at the reservoir and he began exploring the possibility of Shawnee personnel taking on the operations themselves but found it would be more costly and inconvenient for them to do so.
    Taron said he believed PCDA was excluded from discussions between Shawnee, Tecumseh and McLoud regarding McLoud’s role in recreational management at the lake.
    PCDA Attorney Terry West met with PCDA trustees Thursday at Wes Watkins Reservoir and the matter was further discussed in executive session, without McLoud or the public being able to participate in that conversation. The agenda for the meeting said an executive session might be called to “discuss anticipation to take legal action regarding Shawnee Municipal Authority’s decision to give operations of Wes Watkins Reservoir to McLoud.”
    McDougal — who serves as a trustee of the board, along with Thompson — objected to entering into executive session, citing concerns that it could make him both a plaintiff and defendant. He also said, “Our attorneys told us clearly, we have responsibility for maintaining the lake.”
    McDougal and Thompson both voted against an executive session but were outnumbered by the three other trustees. Trustees Curtis Stanford and Sharon Gordon were not in attendance at the meeting.
    After the executive session closed, Thompson said he believed a step forward had been taken and that he believed there should be no problems with McLoud taking over the recreational side of the lake July 1.
    “None of us want to have a backyard brawl against our brothers in Pottawatomie County,” Thompson said, adding he believed all concerns could be addressed and a committee formed to ensure the lake was kept “exactly as you see it here today.”
    The committee, he said, would visit the lake and inspect it each month to be certain there was no vandalism or other conditions that would damage the lake’s “pristine” condition. This committee, formed of one representative from each, PCDA, Shawnee, Tecumseh and McLoud, would also report on McLoud’s performance in managing the lake’s recreational operations.
    Taron said the attorneys for Tecumseh, Shawnee and PCDA will meet with bond counsel and a special meeting will be called within the next two weeks to “assure us everything is legal and acceptable to all parties.”
    “This satisfies the concerns we’ve had,” Taron said.
    Among the items the attorneys will discuss and “iron out” are ensuring that it is put “in writing” there will be no commercial, for-profit establishments allowed at the lake, per conditions of the current bonds. Also, rental properties at the lake will remain under control and responsibility of PCDA, not McLoud.
    Taron said maintaining the tax-free status on the bonds, as well as protecting the health of the lake and its visitors, were of the utmost importance to him. He also said he welcomed any help, from McLoud or the other involved cities, in maintaining the lake while lowering operating costs as long as it didn’t jeopardize the bonds or the lake’s condition.
    Page 3 of 3 - Dillon said the timing of his city taking over the lake “does put a little pressure on us” because of the scheduled annual Blackberry Festival in McLoud that same weekend but he said the city will be ready when given the “go ahead.”
    “We haven’t been sitting around on our hands,” he said. “What we hope to do is have a ribbon cutting July 1. The gate fee will drop completely and all prices currently in effect will be dropping.”
    Dillon said those who have annual permits at the lake will still have those honored, although no refunds will be issued. He said after July 1, he intends to have annual fishing permits available at City Hall, or from a lake or park ranger, for $45 each.
    He also said fishing at the lake “won’t be all catch and release,” although there will be some guidelines to what can be removed from the lake and what must be put back.
    “The first season will tell us a lot on what to adjust,” he said. “We’ll probably adjust the hours around Christmas time until March because of the weather but otherwise, we’ll be open all the time.”
    ———
    Johnna Ray may be reached at 214-3934.
    ALSO OF IMPORTANCE:
    • PCDA Manager Brittanie Poor said she has received no complaints regarding recent rate increases for customers of the Bethel Rural Water District.
    • Poor said four shut-off valves near the schools in that district are being replaced to prevent having to shut off the water to the schools at times.
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