Eagle Island

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Story of the island

Eagle Island today is the result of 10 improbable situations

                                                           ... which can never happen again!

#1 improbable situation

Man builds illegal dam

About 70,000 years ago, a giant glacier carved the land in a way that formed a lake with five small islands. In all the time since, to the best of historical records, no one had ever built anything on Eagle Island until one of the Johnson boys had a crazy idea in the 1970's.

He had inherited the Johnson farmstead on North end of the lake. There was a little gem of an island just a few hundred yards from the  property, and a kind of stepping-stone strip of land in between. His father and grandfather told him that the family also owns that land surrounded by water. Apparently he didn't know that the law says that the state of Wisconsin owns all islands on the lake.

He decided to build a road to the island, using a drag line to scoop up lake bed ands form a dam, stopping the circulation of water.

By the time the DNR learned of this illegal activity, Johnson had already created a solid peninsula to a height of water level. The DNR ordered him to remove the obstructions and restore land and lake to original configurations.

A year went by, and Johnson procrastinated in acting on their demands. And a second and third year, no response.

The story around the lake was that Johnson was involved in much greater criminal activity, and that's why he had a sea plane and shoreline hangar, was often seen unloading an unloading bags from the the plane, and would fire his rifle in the air anytime anyone got too close.

For whatever crime, or crimes, the story goes, he ended up in prison, and thus completely ignored the DNR's order to remove the dam.

Somehow, the Archdiocese of Duluth came into ownership of the property and began operating it as a camp. The DNR pressured the church, as Johnson's successor, to remove the dam, but the church simply said it didn't build it and didn't know anything about it.

Five years passed since Johnson created the dam, and a bay had been formed in the lake, becoming weedy without water circulation.

 

#2 improbable situation

Illegal dam becomes legal, unmovable

Dozens of property owners on the lake, including a commercial resort, came to the conclusion that the DNR was unwilling or unable to enforce its order for removal of the dam, so they decided to remove it themselves, at their own cost.

When the DNR was notified that heavy equipment was digging in the lake, agents came to the site and informed everyone that de-construction must stop immediately.

State law provides that after five years all changes become the new environment and cannot be undone. By quirk of the law, the illegal dam became legal and permanent!

A young camper drowned in the lake, and the church was sued for negligence. The church decided it didn't want any further involvement with the property and sold it to Roger Richison, a developer, who divided and re-sold the property in 1981 as 25 individual parcels.

Dick and Donna Lundborg bought the disputed parcel (island and connecting link to shore), contingent upon obtaining permits for elevating the dam and building a road over it, and for constructing a house on the island.

 

#3 improbable situation

Private party gets title to state land

The Johnson family said their deed going back for generations includes title to all five islands on the lake, but that was in direct conflict with Wisconsin law which provides that the lake and all islands therein are owned by the state.

Only legal action in court could determine which party had the strongest claim. Rather than a costly legal battle, a negotiated settlement was reached, giving Lundborg title to Eagle Island and the connecting land link, and giving the state title to the other four islands.

 

#4 improbable situation

Private road is constructed over dam

A road plan was designed and submitted for approval to the DNR and Army Corp of Engineers.

The most stringent requirements came from the Army, which has detailed specifications for road-building across an Interstate waterway. (Water enters Johnson lake from other lakes and springs, then flows into the Yellow River, then into the St.Croix River and crosses the Minnesota border – thus an Interstate waterway under federal jurisdiction!)

Construction permits were granted by the DNR and Army, and acknowledged without protest by the intervening Sierra Club and Ducks Unlimited, and thus the dam was converted into a solid boulder-walled road to Eagle Island.

#5 improbable situation

Sand is mined for beach walk-out

There was a high bank on the West side of the Southern tip of the island. Lundborg wanted a two story home there, but wanted to keep it low profile rather than setting high on a hill, and wanted a large sandy beach.

A property owner on the other side of the lake had a lot that was was low and swampy. So a plan was developed between Lundborg, an excavator, the other owner, and the DNR, for the excavator to mine 400 truckloads of sand from Lundborg and sell to the other owner.

Then, to prevent the remaining sand from eroding and trees from falling, two large timber wing walls were constructed to define a walk-out site.

Neither the sand removal, beach creation, nor timber walls  would be allowed under today's restrictive environmental laws, but the Eagle Island excavation was completed over 30 years ago and is legally grandfathered.

 

#6 improbable situation

New house is built close to lake

Permission to construct a 3100 square foot two-story walk-out house on the site required considerable negotiation and compromises because it was built close to the lake, requiring variances from the township, county and state.

It was difficult to get the variances 33 years ago, but it would be impossible to get them today.

 

#7 improbable situation

Boat house and track are built on shoreline

In 1983, a plan was submitted to the DNR and Burnett County to construct a 3-stall boathouse on the shoreline, with track running into the lake.

The plan was approved, permits were issued, and the boat house and track were constructed. Shortly after, a state law was passed prohibiting new boathouses on lake shore, but the Eagle Island boathouse is grandfathered.

 

#8 improbable situation

House is rebuilt new in 2012, same way

There are many lake homes that were built 30+ years ago, before restrictive zoning laws, that have unique location advantages. Problem is, most of those homes are now old and deteriorating, out-dated and requiring considerable ongoing repair and maintenance.

Furthermore, the law says that applications to rebuild more than 50% is considered new construction and all property becomes subject to current zoning restrictions.

But another improbable situation occurred in 2011 when a huge area, about 20 miles by 10 miles, was severely damaged by straight-line winds. Within that storm were three tornadoes, one of which took direct aim at the house on Eagle Island, destroying it.

The house was rebuilt in 2011-12 from the old blueprints, so now not only does the house on Eagle Island enjoy all the location advantages of the former times, but now it's a brand new house!

 

#9 improbable situation

Insurance makes milled cedar affordable

The house frame is double wall construction – literally a house within a house – made from thousands of pieces of interlocking cedar timbers. Each piece of timber was cut,, milled, notched, sanded and numbered in Renton, Washington, and then trucked to Eagle Island for assembly.

This is a very unique, beautiful and maintenance-free kind of construction, but very expensive.

Under normal circumstances, this kind of construction could not be economically justified today because price of wood and milling has skyrocketed over the past 30 years. However, under terms of its policy, State Farm Insurance Company was obligated to replace all the milled cedar timbers, and pay the high cost, and thus the new house on Eagle Island has the same high quality and uniqueness as the original house.

 

#10 improbable situation

Stone terraces are built in forbidden zone

After 30 years, the timber retaining walls, one on each side of the beach, were showing their age, and the storm and fallen trees caused some buckling.

Lundborg wanted to replace the retaining walls with stone planters and stairs. But Wisconsin lake shore laws have changed and now state that there can be no new walls or replacements, stone or otherwise, within 75 feet of the high water mark.

After considerable negotiations with the Wisconsin DNR, Burnett County Zoning and Land Use Department and the Burnett County Land and Water Conservation Department, a permit was granted to cut down the grade level and build the stone terraces and patios.

Normally, it would be impossible to construct such structures close to the lake. In this situation, however, the officials agreed that an exception to the strict reading of the law should be allowed on the basis of common sense: the new stonework is smaller, less intrusive and further from the water than the timber wall, and the request was prompted by an act of God, not by personal desire to improve appearance.

These 10 improbable situations merged to form Eagle Island

 

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