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Lac du Flambeau Tribal President says Tribe is owed nearly $10 million for trespass damages from expired road easements

Ross Allen Lake Road is one of the roads with expire rights-of-way agreements.
Beth Tornes
Ross Allen Lake Road is one of the roads with expire rights-of-way agreements.

Since July, the Town of Lac du Flambeau has paid the Lac du Flambeau Tribe a total of $140,000 for permits to keep access to four roads open according to online payment receipts posted to the Town’s website.

The homes along the roads are privately owned, but the roads are Tribal land.

The Tribe had barricaded the roads at the beginning of this year for several weeks because there’d been no progress on paying the tribe for easements that had expired a decade earlier.

There’s been litigation, negotiations between the Town Board and Tribal Council, and comments from state and federal lawmakers as they’ve weighed in on the issues over the last year.

On Friday, the Tribe’s President John Johnson Sr. sent a letter to Town Chairman Matt Gaulke.

It included the Tribe’s most recent ordinance on issuing permits for roads.

The Tribe can grant the Town access for up to a year at a time. The permit fee is 1.5% of the state assessed fair market value for the homes along the road the town wants access to.

That will be the formula the Tribe will require going forward, but in the letter, Johnson says the Tribe will not issue any permits under the ordinance until the Tribe is paid for past trespass damages.

Johnson says the tribe is owed nearly $10 million dollars for those damages.

That amount includes past easement costs at the 1.5% rate, legal fees for a court case and negotiations, and $3 million in Tribal Administration Fees.

The Lac du Flambeau Town Board is having its lawyers look over the letter.

The board met in closed session for more than an hour Wednesday night during its town board meeting.

The town has been making month-to-month payments to the Tribe to keep roads open. They’re currently paid up through December 12.

Town Chairman Matt Gaulke says the board didn’t take any formal action during the closed session.

They do plan to bring the next road payment to the Tribe this week along with a letter.

“Many of you have seen or know the letter that was sent to myself and town from December 1st by President Johnson. That letter and its contents are under review by our legal counsel,” said Gaulke.

A couple of people that spoke during public comment expressed frustration at the situation and questioned if the town was capable of handling it.

“The town doesn’t have the resources to come even remotely close to the financial demands for past trespass or road access across the reservation in the future,” said a woman who lives on Elsie Lake Lane in Lac du Flambeau. Elsie Lake Lane is one of the roads with expired easements.

She wants federal lawmakers to get involved to resolve the issue so that the Tribe is compensated and gives non-tribal property owners peace of mind.

The Town Board is expected to meet again Wednesday to further discuss the issue.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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