Four weeks after Lac du Flambeau road barriers went up little progress made on solution to rights-of-way issue
Leaving the house for something like groceries has become an ordeal for Dave Miess and his wife.
“We get our little kid sled out and we walk across the lake, go to our car, go get our groceries, make sure we only get enough stuff that can fit on the sled and then head back across,” said Miess.
His car, as well as several of his neighbors, is parked across Ross Allen Lake.
“A neighbor’s house who has access to a public road. Unfortunately their home has become a little parking lot,” he said.
Miess lives off a private road, but that road’s only access point is Ross Allen Lake Road which is one of four roads the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has put a barrier across.
WXPR spoke with Miess four weeks ago today when that barrier first went up.
Back then, he thought it would be a week, maybe two before they would be lifted again.
“Now, we’re at the end of the fourth week and you’re just not seeing anything moving,” said Miess.
The barriers are still up and there’s been little progress made, at least that's publicly known, on resolving the right of way issues that led to the tribe putting them up.
“We’re stuck in the middle. We have no power at this point in time, the homeowners,” said Miess.
It’s a complicated issue that goes back to nearly 10 years ago when right-of-way easements for the four roads expired. Those roads are East Ross Allen Lake Road, Annie Sunn Lane, Center Sugarbush Lane, and Elsie Lake Lane. In total, all four roads amount to roughly 2,600 feet of tribal land.
The Lac du Flambeau Tribe says it notified the Bureau of Indian affairs of upcoming expirations and that it’s made several attempts over the years to get the BIA to work together to resolve this issue to no avail.
The Tribe says negotiations with the involved titles companies and the Town of Lac du Flambeau over the years, but during that time the Tribal Government says the negotiations haven’t always been in good faith.
It finally had enough and put the barriers in place on January 31st saying in a statement, “Imagine if someone built a road through your property without your permission to access land on the other side of your property. A title company then tells your neighbor they are guaranteed access forever to their property through your land over the illegally built road. How would you feel about it? Wouldn’t you want to make sure, even though the road was built illegally to begin with, that everyone acknowledged that you owned the access road that rests on your land, and people using the road follow reasonable expectations for continued use of the road?”
The Tribal Government has said previously it has no intention of taking down the barriers until a good faith offer has been made.
The Town of Lac du Flambeau has offered about $64,000 which is the money the town has received in gas taxes for maintenance of those roads as well as future gas tax payments for them.
In a letter rejecting that offer, Tribal President John Johnson said that amount of money was not sufficient to cover the Town’s responsibility in contributing to the past trespasses.
It urged the Town Board to work with taxpayers and the title companies to make a reasonable and good faith offer to the Tribe.
That letter did not say what it considers a good faith offer, but in a separate statement issued after the Town Board’s offer, the Tribe said it believes it’s owed $20 million by accounting for all the fees and expenses its incurred trying to secure an agreement to provide access as well as the cost of trespassing on Tribal lands over the 10 years the easements expired.
On the title companies’ part, a lawyer, Bridget Hubing, hired by the titles companies to represent the homeowners sent a letter last week to the Tribe’s attorney.
It says they’ve made an offer of just over one million dollars and a request to meet and mediate the issue.
It states the Tribe’s attorney acknowledged receipt of all their communications but has not responded much beyond that.
In the latest letter, Hubing writes she will file a complaint if the roads are not reopened by noon Tuesday, February 28th.
The letter also details Hubing’s actions over the years in regards to this situation, you can read it here.
Elected officials like Governor Tony Evers, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Representative Tom Tiffany have also been trying to press the Bureau of Indians Affairs to get involved with little to no response.
In his latest letter to President Johnson, Rep. Tiffany asks Johnson to join him in pressing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to “produce the existing appraisals of these rights-of-way so that legitimate negotiations can begin in earnest.”
Taking its toll
The cumulation of this has meant minimal progress and mounting frustration for the Lac du Flambeau residents being affected like Dave Miess.
“I’ve never really had to use my elected officials to you know contact them for anything on a personal level. I guess I’ve just been disheartened by the fact that their abilities to affect a resolution to this are so limited,” said Miess.
Miess says the road closures are starting to impact residents mentally and physically.
It’s also hurting his business.
Miess is a landscape photographer that runs a studio out of his home. He was also supposed to be at a show in Green Bay this weekend.
“My trailer with everything in it is behind the barricade. My car is on the other side. I can’t marry the two things up. I’m probably going to have to end up cancelling that,” he said.
Right now, Miess wants the Tribe, the title companies, and the Town to sit down and come to a meaningful, long-term resolution.
“It’s affecting relationships. It’s affecting the health of the homeowners that are involved in all of this. We just want everyone to sit down and figure this thing out,” Miess said.
Miess says the Tribal Police have been doing welfare checks and taking garbage about once a week. The Tribe has been plowing the roads in case first responders need to get through.
WXPR has requested an interview with the Lac du Flambeau Tribal President or someone from the tribal government through its public relations representative with no success.
All statements from the tribe regarding this issue have been through written statements.