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The Polar Bear Open ended its season appropriately with the Bob Evans Classic under cold, snowy conditions and the tournament’s namesake winning two of the prizes on the St. Joseph River at 6 Span Bridge.

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I was proud of the sportsmen, clubs and businesses that pledged support for the DNR’s proposed access site on Eagle/Juno lakes at the Ontwa Township public hearing last week.

The hall was filled with supporters, and according to an unofficial tally, 26 people spoke in favor and 13 lake residents spoke against it. Several letters and signed petitions of support also were presented to the board.

The DNR has the option to buy land that it wants to develop north of the Juno Chain channel and across from Eagle Lake. It calls for a new Eagle Lake ramp with safer access than a former site, a ramp into the channel going to Juno Chain, restroom facilities and shore fishing area.

Every sportsman that addressed the board spoke respectfully and followed the rules of conduct the township set for the meeting; some lake residents opposed to the access were less respectful, using their time the microphone to chastise anglers and the DNR for threatening “their” lake.

Spokesperson for the Eagle Lake Improvement Association said her group respected angler rights and wants to work with everyone on an equitable plan. However, it wants the 16 parking spots the DNR proposes cut in half; a park environment, boat cleaning station and additional environmental restrictions.

In addition to several individuals who voiced support, spokesmen for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), Edwardsburg Conservation Club, Michigan Bass Federation, Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisherman’s Association, Painter, Juno, Christiana Lake Association and Michiana Walleye Association took an official stand of support.

Special thanks go to Darrin Schaap of Clear H2o Tackle (near the lakes) and angler Dave Clark who runs a dock service. Both Ontwa residents risked losing business by speaking out in favor of the site.

Meanwhile, representatives from Lunker’s were noticeably missing despite pleas to store managers prior to the meeting. As the largest retailer/taxpayer in the township and one whose business has been built on the backs of sportsmen, Lunker’s show of support would have been huge.

Instead, it was inexplicably absent.

The matter now goes before the township board of zoning appeals Feb. 25 to determine whether the DNR plan qualifies as a “park” to meet zoning ordinance requirements.

Ontwa Zoning Administrator Wayne Hardin said that his interpretation - as well as opinions of the township attorney and engineer – is that the DNR plan meets those requirements.

“But it will be up to the board to determine whether it accepts my recommendation,” he added.

Let’s hope the board does the right thing and that the DNR stands its ground and puts up a better fight than it did the last time.

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