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New boat rules for Lake Cunningham frustrates boaters

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 9:36 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - As excitement builds for the reopening of a popular recreation area there is also a growing concern.

The threat of zebra mussels has created a controversy over whether the public should be allowed to put their boats in Cunningham Lake.

It won’t open until June after the completion of more than $17 million in renovations paid by private donations. The Cunningham Lake Development Trust has a lease agreement with the city and also coordinates with the Corps Engineers and Nebraska Game and Parks.

“As of right now, there is no decision on not letting people publicly boat in Lake Cunningham. We’re trying to work out a solution,” said Executive Director of Lake Cunningham Development Trust, Brook Bench.

Cunningham Lake has been drained twice to get rid of zebra mussels that kill algae and starve fish.

“We just put 150,000 fish in here,” said Bench.

Zebra mussels usually stow away on boats and perhaps within a week, the groups that are revitalizing the park will meet to discuss new rules. For example, rules such as those who may not have a slip can be allowed to bring in a boat.

One option would be if they pass a zebra mussels inspection and another is to require a spray before. Also, under construction is a ban on outside watercraft and having a vendor rent out mussel-free boats.

Fishing enthusiast Blair Debban said, “I’ve got a lot of electronics on this boat and I got my own boat I paid for. I don’t feel like I should go and pay money to rent a boat.”

Blair prefers an inspection requirement depending on what hours or a spray station but not a ban on outside boats.

“We want to be able to go out and enjoy these parks the way we want to enjoy them. We don’t want to be restricted to not put a boat on the lake unless we happen to be a slip holder there at the marina,” said Blair.

Slip renters will be allowed to bring in their boats once for inspection and then not leave. But what to do about outside watercraft is the sticking point.

“If we don’t do something it’s a matter of time until they’re in here again. Then we’re going to drain it and all the campers and all the kids and everybody who enjoys this place won’t have it anymore,” said Bench.

So to keep zebra mussels out of Cunningham Lake, the trust will be floating ideas that some boaters say won’t easily sink in.

The trust and its government partners will have a private meeting soon. However, Trust Director Brook Bench says he is open to holding a public meeting where boaters can offer ideas on keeping zebra mussels out of the lake.

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