Elkhorn Common Council approves ski team schedule

By Kellen Olshefski


The City of Elkhorn Common Council voted unanimously in favor of approving the LAS Water Ski Show Team’s six show dates and practices on Elkhorn Lake at Babe Mann Park, as well as an indemnification agreement with the team, at its meeting May 15.

The topic was discussed at the Municipal Services and Utilities Committee meeting on May 8, at which time the committee directed city staff to work with the team to find a compromise for Saturday practices.

City of Elkhorn Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Meyer said Monday the department and team had already worked out when those practices would be allowed.

At the May 8 committee meeting, City Clerk Cairie Virrueta brought the topic to committee members, noting she felt the city’s agreement with the team was much more complex than a special event, which the city had recognized it as in previous years. Virrueta said special events are typically a one- or two-day happening while the ski team is making use of the lake over the course of the entire summer and recommended it be reviewed.

After Alderman Bruce Lechner asked for a quick overview, Virrueta said with the team offering learn-to-ski events a couple of times a year, open to the general public, she had reached out to CVMIC — a mutual insurance organization that provides services to municipalities — which recommended the City pursue an indemnification agreement with the team. She said the city’s previous agreement with the team didn’t address involvement of the general public in skiing activities on the lake.

Additionally, Virrueta said the ski team’s proposed Saturday practices would add an additional 10 weekend dates to the schedule, in violation of the city’s ordinance on recreation permits (19.01.04), which allows for a maximum of six weekend dates with a seasonal permit.

City Administrator Sam Tapson said May 8 the way the permit application was delivered by the ski team originally, it should have been denied as it doesn’t meet the city’s ordinance on seasonal permits at the lake. However, he said, no one wants to deny use, but should ensure the team’s use is complementary to the public use of the park and lake.


Concerns raised

Meyer said at the May 8 meeting her concern with having the ski team on the lake every Saturday is that last year proved that other private events — such as private parties or church groups — don’t mesh well at times.

“If they have music, the boats, the noise, the action, a lot of people go to that park because they want it to be quiet and relaxing,” Meyer said. “So, I think to have every Saturday from May to September be booked by the ski team, I don’t think, in my recommendation, it’d be a fair agreement for other community members who want to use the park for various reasons or other people coming in to run and event.”

Meyer noted after an incident at the park last summer, they had started to inform those who rented the park for private parties the ski team would be practicing on the lake, and while it did avoid some issues, renters had made comments that it just “wasn’t the same.” Meyer said she didn’t want to prohibit the team from weekend practices, but wanted to find a middle ground.

Alderman Michael Kluck, chairman of committee, asked about concerns over use of alcohol during the team’s activities last summer. Virrueta said there was an incident where attendees brought alcohol into the park. She had let the team know it wasn’t allowed and they informed all attendees alcohol was not permitted at the park.

Additionally, Virrueta said there was a second instance when the club had a special event where they were selling alcohol under a permit they had received from the Parks and Recreation Department but that permit was for private use only, and not to include the public.

Jeff Auberger, a member of the ski team’s board of directors, was at the May 8 meeting. He noted much of the concerns were due to misunderstandings and said it was never the club’s intention to be misleading or operate in conflict with the city’s ordinance.

“We certainly want to be good users and are appreciative of the opportunity,” Auberger said.

Regarding the concerns about alcohol, Auberger said he didn’t recall how it was initially brought to the club’s attention early in the season, but the team made it protocol for their announcer to make the public in attendance aware open intoxicants were not allowed at the park. As for the club’s alcohol permit for last year’s alumni event, Auberger said they thought they were handling it correctly.

“I know we thought we did the right thing,” he said. “We had a licensed bartender … so, if we didn’t do something right, it certainly wasn’t intentional and it was done in the best effort.”

In regards to concerns about others’ use of the park, Auberger said the club had suggested last year that others looking to rent space at the park be made aware of the team’s use ahead of time. Furthermore, while the team did have one bad experience with a private event at the park last summer, the vast majority of interactions with community members at the park were positive.

“Several of those that were out there that had invited us in,” he said, noting one family renting the pavilion even invited the team to the cookout taking place.

“Our goal is to be of value to the community out there, certainly not a hindrance,” Auberger said. “We intend to be good stewards out there to the best of our ability, but if I’m not aware of it, we can’t make it better.”

With concerns raised over the team’s learn-to-ski events, Auberger said those events — typically two a year, one at Elkhorn Community Days — are open to the general public, and insurance is handled through USA Water Ski, meaning interested parties sign waivers and are insured through the club in a one-time use situation.

“The water ski team is one of a few things where we can have three generations of a family participating in the event,” Auberger said. “So, it’s a pretty unique thing when it comes to a sport that, that can be the case. So, inviting those that might have an interest is our way to expose them, help them to realize they don’t have to own a boat, live on a lake, don’t have to have a friend with a boat. We’ll take you from not knowing how to learning, and then to some valuable part of the team if you desire.”

Auberger also said in most cases, it’s children participating in the learn-to-ski events with their parents signing the waivers, and the team has six trained safety personnel available to address any and all safety concerns, following protocol of USA Water Ski.

Regarding Saturday practices, Auberger said the team has held Saturday practices in the past because 30 to 40 percent of the team are Illinois families with lake homes in this area that want to participate, but also have time to relax, partly why the club doesn’t hold Sunday practices.

He said weekend practices certainly hold value for the team, as not everybody can make Thursday night practices, and not everybody can make Saturday practices. As such, he said the team would work with weekend practices, whether that means moving them to a different weekend day or a different time.


Possible solutions

Tapson said at the May 8 meeting a more detailed agreement needs to be worked out with the ski team for its 2018 season going forward, moving away from permitting it as a special event and creating a free-standing contract or agreement with the club, which would also touch on concerns raised by committee members and allow for longer-term usage.

“It’s not necessarily a special event, it’s a continual use, and to that extent, it should probably be separated out from the ordinance,” Tapson said. “The ordinance can be a guidance for certain aspects, but maybe it shouldn’t be limited to six times. Maybe, by contract, we would agree to eight, or however many. I’m not saying you shouldn’t permit their use this year, but I think you need to focus on doing something going forward.”

Alderman Tom Myrin brought up the idea of the ski team setting up practices in a different location on the lake, noting the city has multiple events at Sunset Park regularly and it seems to have worked there in the past.

“My question is, why can’t we make it work,” Myrin said. “Is there an opportunity where they could set things up differently? I don’t know, I’m asking that question because I’d like us to be able to work together, because I think, as they stated, there were some opportunities where that happened and it turned out very, very well. I’d like to see them continue to use this as much as we allow them to, because I do think that brings people in, and it’s a great family activity, like they said.”

Auberger said while shows are set up typically closer to the pavilion, during practices, all of the club’s equipment is set up at the launch, about 150 feet from the pavilion. He said the club doesn’t use power or music during its practices, and the closest it comes to the pavilion is to use of the restrooms.

In response to Myrin’s comments, Tapson said May 8 it would be better to look at the ordinance and an agreement for the future.

“A snap decision one way or the other probably isn’t going to be in anybody’s best interest, which is sort of how this got done (originally),” Tapson said. “It was really a very quick turn around, and we probably missed a lot of it, as did the ski club. It’s a two-way street here. We have got to work on this together to come to some understanding.”

Auberger said he wants to maintain a positive working relationship with city, and doesn’t want it to turn into an “us against them” type of situation.

“That’s not the intent, we want this to work well. If you guys can be forthcoming with us, we’ll do what we can to make it work well,” he said.

For more on the water ski show team and its schedule slated for Elkhorn Lake in Babe Mann Park, visit laswaterskiteam.com.

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