On Thursday in Vilas County, Forest County Circuit substitute Judge Leon Stenz dealt another blow to Woodruff resident Trig Solberg's long-running attempt to use water from Carlin Lake in Presque Isle at a nearby bottling facility in Marenisco, Mich.
For the past two years, Solberg and his business associates have tried to get their bottling plant running.
Initially, they sought to open it in the Minocqua area before taking a look at sites in Presque Isle, and then finally settling at their current Michigan location.
In 2016 - after announcing their intent to take water from a well at the Carlin Club Lodge in Presque Isle - Solberg's Carlin Club LLC was sued by the local lake association, who claimed his business was going to be in violation of many zoning rules.
Since then, the matter has wound its way through the courts and again popped up last week when Solberg and his legal counsel asked for a hearing on possible equitable relief from the injunction issued by Stenz prior, meaning a court-crafted remedy could be used in place of the injunction which would require parties involved in the legal issues to either perform or prohibit a certain action or various actions to the satisfaction of Stenz.
In his arguments before the court, Carlin Club LLC defense attorney Timothy Casper claimed the initial injunction was not something which should have been issued as no violations of zoning ordinances had occurred. In his view, the restrictions on the bottling plant needed to be lifted in order to not compromise the political process in the future.
"If the court issues an injunction, I think this will taint the political process," he said. "If allowed to testify, Mr. Solberg will tell you he has gone to the town of Presque Isle and they've said they're not going to do anything until they hear what the court has to say. This is a real problem in this case, because it really ought to go by local officials."
In response, Stenz pondered how his decision powers would affect what Carlin Club LLC wants to do.
He noted the group never filed a request for a permit and stated they still had the option to go and ask for various zoning variance permits from the county.
"Can't you change the scope of your use? Can't you get a variance?" Stenz asked.
"All we've done here is say, based on what was suggested, the type of use in question wouldn't be permissible."
Later, Carlin Lake Association attorney Daniel Bach backed up this assessment, claiming variances and conditional use permits could still be sought, and an injunction was still needed in order to prevent Carlin Club LLC from going forward with plans area residents may be opposed to while the larger issues get sorted out through meetings.
"I haven't heard a single reason why an injunction shouldn't continue in this action," he said.
"I think it is important to reinforce the injunction which has been entered in this case and there is absolutely nothing in it which prevents the defendant from going forward and seeking relief at the county level, if they want to do this it's fine."
After testimony from Solberg and Carlin Lake Association President Robert Ruch - who each clarified key parts of their sides of the case (Solberg intends to pump 18,000 gallons of water a day, not 100,000, and Ruch's group filed their suit out of a desire to protect the water from any potential corporate issues) - Stenz made his decision.
The injunction would stand. And Solberg's business would not be able to pump and transport water from the property on Carlin Lake for commercial bottling purposes.
"I'll grant the injunction," Stenz told the court. "In this case, the actions went beyond hopes and dreams. The completion of the business plans is where the violation is."
After the meeting, Casper expressed discontent with the ruling, but indicated he planned to work on the matter further in the days and months to come.
"It's a very frustrating (ruling)," he said. "We don't believe the court should intervene where ideas are being expressed and no law violations have occurred. We are considering appealing as well and we'll work on the political process in addition."
Evan J. Pretzer may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.