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June 18, 2018

10/10/2017 7:28:00 AM
Stenz shuts down water bottling plant
Carlin Club LLC looking at Court of Appeals as possible next step

Brian Jopek

On Thursday, Forest County Circuit Court judge Leon Stenz essentially shot down the effort, at least at the circuit court level, to use water from Carlin Lake in Presque Isle for a water bottling plant in Marenisco, Mich.

His ruling also means a November trial in the lawsuit brought against the Carlin Club LLC - a partnership including Trygve "Trig" Solberg, Bob Rynders and Steve Kosnick - by the Carlin Lake Association won't happen.

That water bottling plant had at one time been envisioned a couple years ago to be on Highway 70 west in the town of Minocqua before Solberg himself pulled the plug on that location.

After that, Carlin Club LLC - named for the Carlin Club in Presque Isle where the well water would be pulled from - tried to get the water bottling plant in Presque Isle itself and that failed.

The company, with plans to still be able to pull water from the Carlin Club well and transport it a few miles up the road in Marenisco, built the bottling plant there.

Late last year, however, the lake association filed its lawsuit and a subsequent restraining order to prohibit any further activity related to pulling water from the well until the lawsuit was settled.

The primary reason behind Stenz's ruling dealt with provisions of shoreland zoning, which fall under Vilas County zoning laws.

With the Carlin Club property being within 1,000 feet of the shoreline of Carlin Lake, he basically ruled in Vilas County zoning laws - not those of the town of Presque Isle - prohibit the operation.

Substitution issue

The fact that Stenz - a Forest County judge - has been presiding over the three court proceedings Vilas County court on the matter, was something brought up by Tim Casper, the attorney for Carlin Club LLC.

That was one of the items Stenz addressed Thursday.

"I have to say, I am sympathetic to your position," he said to Casper. "I have often thought to myself that the whole substitution issue disenfranchises the community."

Stenz said the people of Vilas County trust circuit court judge Neil "Chip" Neilsen.

"They've voted for him a number of times, perhaps shared the same values, same outlooks and that's why they voted him as judge," he said. "They wanted him to represent the community conscience to make these decisions."

Stenz said he was elected first in Florence County and then Forest County "probably for the same reasons."

"And so, by having someone else decide cases within that county, it does, in effect, disenfranchise the community that voted for him," he said. "Unfortunately, your argument, in that respect, is really not developed and not supported by any type of authority."

Stenz also said Casper's argument didn't offer any alternatives.

"It's clear these substitution statutes are in place throughout the entire state," he said. "They've been there for a long time. That is the way the system works. There are statutes that authorize it."

'Various options'

Following the court proceeding, Bob Ruch, president of the Carlin Lake Association, said he and the rest of the association's members are pleased.

"It demonstrated, I think, to us that a group of citizens that have been at this now for almost two and a half years can look to an ordinance that can protect us in the residential (zoning) category that we have and that we fought for some years ago will prevail," he said.

Asked about any plans going forward should Carlin Club LLC try other avenues such as appeals to Stenz's ruling on the matter, Ruch said "the Carlin Lodge has been an important part of our lake community and culture."

"It is not our intent, hasn't been, to see that entity closed and not reopen," he said. "Our hope is that entity will continue in the areas that we think they comply with the law. But we also heard today very clearly that if they plan on pumping water from that well, it's going to be in violation of the ordinance."

Minocqua attorney John Houlihan, who also represents Solberg, said Friday the Carlin Club LLC has "various options."

"One of those is, and we're considering that right now, an appeal of the case up to the Court of Appeals," he said. "We also, I think, have other options at the county level. We're exploring those also."

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.

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