This article previously appeared in the Bismarck Tribune in print and digital.
By: BLAIR EMERSON, Bismarck Tribune, Dec 13, 2016
People who own private property on Lake Tschida will not have to meet a 2021 deadline to remove their homes and trailers.
Sen. John Hoeven authored legislation that enables homeowners to remain on Lake Tschida as part of a larger water bill, which is sitting on President Barack Obama’s desk awaiting his signature. Part of the legislation also limits fee increases for lot renters on Bureau of Reclamation lakes, Lake Tschida, Lake Patterson and Jamestown Reservoir.
On Tuesday, Hoeven held a round-table discussion in Bismarck with members of the Heart Butte Cabin Association, who thanked Hoeven for the legislation. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who helped pass the legislation in the Senate, and U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer also attended.
More than 30 people spoke about the importance of their property on the recreation reservoir between Glen Ullin and Elgin, many of whom have been there for 40 to 60 years.
“The lake has been very important for families around the area for as many as three generations, and it’s so great to know this will continue for the future generations,” said Leo Vetter, vice president of the cabin association.
After a flood in 2009, the Bureau of Reclamation made a decision that all trailers had to be removed after 2021 and only recreational vehicles would be allowed on the leased lots. The decision received strong pushback from members of the cabin association, who appealed to Hoeven’s office to intervene.
“It’s an overwhelming victory; it’s been a long journey. Many times, it looked very grim,” Vetter said.
“If you’re looking for a victory over bureaucracy and unreasonable government, I think this is it,” Heitkamp said to applause at the Elks Lodge in Bismarck Tuesday.
Hoeven convinced Interior Secretary Estevan Lopez to visit the site last fall to meet with trailer owners, but Lopez stood by the bureau and the 2012 deadline.
Vetter attended Tuesday’s meeting alongside several members of his family, including his two grandsons. His family has owned a trailer on the lake since 1997 and has since made many improvements with the intention of staying there.
“This past summer since this whole issue surfaced, it gets a little bit frustrating or difficult to be (at the lake) at times just knowing that the whole atmosphere is going to not exist at some point,” he said.
Mal Olson, of Bismarck, has a cabin on the north side of the lake. Olson, 92, calls himself the “grandfather of Heart Butte,” because he doesn’t think anyone has been there longer than he has, which is about 60 years.
The lake has been important for many generations, according to Olson, who said, on any given day in the summer, there can be four generations of his family on the lake.
“We’re Heart Butte people,” Olson said. “I’m out there every minute I can spend.”
The legislation was passed by Congress last week as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which also includes aid for Flint, Mich. For that reason, Hoeven said he’s confident Obama will sign it by the end of the week.
Hoeven said he was pleased by how people of the cabin association approached the situation.
“It shows what people can accomplish when they work together in a unified, positive way,” he said.
The bill also limits fee increases for people with exclusive use of property on Lake Tschida, Lake Patterson and the Jamestown Reservoir.
The Bureau of Reclamation recently increased permit fees, which were set to double at Lake Tschida and more than double at Lake Patterson and Jamestown Reservoir. The new legislation limits the total fee increase to no more than 33 percent over the next five years.
(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)