Independence man takes issue with WMA

By Susan Van Cleaf,Sun Contributing Editor

An Independence resident is not happy about a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) located near his home and is demanding that something be done about his complaints.

LaVerne Vassar, a former Independence City Council member, sounded off before the Independence City Council July 24. His complaints revolved around hunting in the WMA, which is owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and a related parking lot on Lake Haughey Road. The parking lot is across from Vassar’s house.

After listening to Vassar, City Councilor Norm Wenck said, "I think we should talk with the DNR." And the city council decided to have city staff do just that.

When the meeting began, Vassar requested a spot on the agenda. When the time came, Mayor Marvin Johnson invited him to come to the podium.

Vassar started to speak loudly and said, "You are responsible for the public nuisance you created, Marvin Johnson, with that DNR park and parking lot in front of my house. It was only supposed to have hunting from late September to the first of the year. Now it’s all year round. Now it’s crow season, now it’s turkey season twice a year. I’m tired of it."

He continued, "You never had a public hearing on that thing at all. I called you on the thing and you sent Boy Wonder out there to inspect a pile of dirt. He said it was only a minor thing. Why, my granddaughter can’t even play in the front yard. I’m tired of these things from you."

"I want that thing up and out of there, or I’m going to sue you and the city for creating a public nuisance, and that’s the way it’s going to be," Vassar said.

"When I can’t be in my front yard or out working without getting shot, there’s something wrong," he continued.

After Vassar summed up his complaints, Mayor Johnson explained how the Wildlife Management Area came to be.

The WMA is located on the former Binger property situated at Lake Robina. After the owner’s death, the Binger Foundation took over ownership of the property. A number of organizations asked the foundation to transfer the deed to them. One of the organizations was the Three Rivers Park District.

"The DNR received it (the deed), and we had no authority over who they gave it to," Mayor Johnson said.

He read the minutes from the Sept. 23, 2008 city council meeting at which the council learned about the WMA from Tim Bremicker, DNR regional wildlife manager. Bremicker said the Binger Foundation asked the DNR to accept the Binger property as a gift. Mr. Binger wanted the property donated in order to preserve it as open space.

The DNR went through a review process before accepting the property, Bremicker said. State statutes dictate that WMAs are for preservation of wildlife, open space and natural areas and minimizing development on the property. They are open for public hunting, walking and snowshoeing but not for motorized use, according to the meeting minutes.

Mayor Johnson asked Bremicker whether there was parking at the south gate. He responded that there wasn’t parking, but some people were parking. The DNR was trying to figure out a way to encourage people to park on the west end.

"Bremicker said the DNR would work with the city, if any issues arise," the meeting minutes said.

At that 2008 meeting, City Councilor Lindsay Wallace said residents were concerned that a parking lot appeared without any warning or notification. Bremicker explained that the DNR had a short time to finish work on the park after donation of the land.

"Bremicker said the DNR should have kept the city better informed," the meeting minutes reported.

After Mayor Johnson finished reading from the minutes, Vassar said, "The parking lot should have been stuck off on (County Road) 92, not on Lake Haughey Road. That’s a private road, not a freeway. Half the time it’s like a state fair."

Mayor Johnson asked Vassar whether he had talked with the DNR. He answered that he had without success.

Then Johnson asked what Vassar meant about traffic "like a state fair."

He responded, "There’s cars going in and out all the time, all day and all night. You call the police and half the time they don’t show up. They’re out on a medical emergency or something."

The Mayor asked Sergeant Gary Kroells, of West Hennepin Public Safety (WHPS), whether authorities had received complaints about the WMA.

Kroells said he had checked with a number of agencies. Since 2008 they had received reports on a total of 13 incidents – five of which had to do with hunting and/or parking issues. Police responded to all five incidents and took action with all parties or were unable to locate the subject vehicles in the parking lot.

In four of the five incidents, police found people doing target shooting, Kroells said. They were not aware that target shooting was not allowed.

He added that prominent signs near the WMA entrance describe WMA rules. It is unlawful to camp without a permit, use all terrain or any other unlicensed vehicles, snowmobile without authorization, operate a motorized vehicle except on designated routes, use horses, do target or promiscuous shooting, take unprotected wildlife from March 1 through Aug. 31 and leave boats, decoys, tree stands or other equipment (except traps) overnight.

At that point Wenck said Independence should talk with the DNR. Maybe some solutions could be worked out, such as more or larger signs, he said.

Vassar responded that the parking lot must be moved.

Wenck answered, "The DNR would have to do that. If it really is a nuisance, I would recommend that every time there’s an issue, you call. If there are 75 issues rather than 13, we have to tell the DNR that."

Kroells said, "Call us. Let us deal with the issue. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here 24/ 7."