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Yet Again, Board Rejects Plan From Solberg’s Company To Pump, Transport Water Near Carlin Lake

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Once again on Thursday, a Vilas County committee rejected Trig Solberg’s attempt to collect water from a well in Presque Isle for commercial bottling.

Over a span of nearly five years, Solberg’s group has been blocked time and again by judges, boards, and administrators.  It wants to take water from near rural Carlin Lake, bottle it, and sell it in stores.  Solberg is the founder of Trig’s supermarkets.

But, by a 4-0 vote, the Vilas County Board of Adjustment rejected the plan.  The vote came after more than two hours of closed-session discussion.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The vote denying the company's plan was unanimous.

“I think we’re invigorated just by gathering today and having over 40 people here in now this sixth hearing over the four and a half years.  It’s a reaffirmation for me,” said Bob Ruch, a who owns a home on Carlin Lake.

Ruch is a member of the committee of the Carlin Lake Association working against the water pumping and transport plans.

Solberg’s company is seeking permission to send three tanker trucks daily down a narrow town road to collect 

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The road leading to the Carlin Club and site of proposed increased water pumping.

water from a private well at the Carlin Club, a restaurant, bar, and lodge.  Each truck would carry 6,000 gallons of water.

Vilas County Zoning Administrator Dawn Schmidt initially denied that request.  The company appealed the decision to the Board of Adjustment, which reviews zoning decisions. Last year, the Board sided with Schmidt.  The company appealed that decision to Vilas County Circuit Court, which bounced the case back to the Board for Thursday’s further review.

Lawyers for Solberg’s company believe the water pumping and transportation should be allowed because the Carlin Club is grandfathered into a different zoning classification than the rest of the residential lake.

Attorney Greg Harrold made that argument to Board of Adjustment Chair Joy Hanser.

“They could tear down the Carlin Club and build a hospital there.  They could build an auto service station.  All these things are permitted by your ordinance,” Harrold said.

“Honestly, Greg, that’s absurd,” Hanser responded.  “You can’t just tear it down and randomly build something and say, ‘There you go.’  So that’s an absurd statement.”

The company’s plan doesn’t fit with zoning regulations, homeowners’ attorney Michael Stingl successfully argued.

“What we’re here about today is, they have a particular use in mind for this property.  Can it be used that way?  According to your ordinance, it can’t,” he said.

The four voting board members agreed.  A fifth, Jeff Burke, recused himself from the vote.

“It would be an absurd result to allow Carlin Club Properties to be used in an industrial manner which is neither allowed in a general business nor in a single-family residential [zoning] district,” Hanser said in announcing the decision.

But Thursday’s denial still might not be the end of the story, admitted Solberg attorney John Houlihan.

“Depending upon the outcome here, it’s maybe a matter to be brought up to the court again,” he said.

His side could now appeal it back to circuit court.

If that happens, it would be the seventh hearing on the case.

Solberg’s side hasn’t won one yet.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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