Council faces regulatory problems at Bluestem Lake

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council last Thursday put off until at least Tuesday of this week any decision about whether to allow the completion of an improvement project at a property it owns along the shores of Bluestem Lake.

Councilor Steve Tolson said a signed power-of-attorney document would be needed before he and his colleagues could formally agree to make a deal with Troy BigEagle, who had been speaking on behalf of leaseholders for one lot.

The problem at issue regarding the Bluestem parcel is that BigEagle told the council former City Manager Dave Neely told him it was OK to proceed with an improvement project roughly twice as large as city regulations define as the maximum size; however, Interim Police Chief Lorrie Hennesy, who handles regulatory issues at Bluestem Lake, recalls Neely telling her that the project should not be allowed to go forward.

Neely, who no longer works for the city of Pawhuska, was not present Thursday to confirm or deny what he told anyone.

BigEagle told the council that he and Hennesy had been able to conduct a reasonable discussion of the problem.

"We've done really good with not losing tempers," BigEagle said.

Beyond the immediate question -- whether to allow BigEagle to finish the work he has been doing -- is the thorny issue of what the regulations are going to be for properties at Bluestem Lake. City Attorney John Heskett made clear Thursday he thinks there's a real problem that will require the attention of city officials.

"This shouldn't happen, ever," Heskett said regarding the regulatory tangle that has developed regarding lake lot improvements. City government's intent has been for all improvements to be non-permanent, and for persons who hold lake lot leases to be temporary guests on city property, not permanent residents.

Heskett suggested there needed to be a review of the regulations. No decision has been made about that.

"There's got to be a stop to this 'Wild West' out there," Heskett said of the relationship, or lack thereof, between city government and leaseholders regarding Bluestem properties.

Hennesy said she would like to see city government open up more lakefront land for leasing to persons interested in enjoying the Bluestem Lake area.

"I'd like to open up another cove on the north side," she said.

Mayor Roger Taylor and Tolson added to the discussion Thursday by exploring with BigEagle the possibility of a concession on the part of the leaseholders he represents about "pulling back in" to some extent the improvement they have been financing. There was also discussion regarding the possibility of increasing the annual lease charge for parcels where leaseholders have made outsize physical improvements.

Councilor Jourdan Foran advocated for charging double the annual rental fee for anyone building a lot improvement twice the size that has been allowable.

Mayor Roger Taylor added emphasis to Heskett's assertion that city government urgently needs to do something about its Bluestem Lake regulations.

"We really need to get on top of this," Taylor said. He suggested that city government needs to do something to discourage leaseholders from making substantial improvements until the regulatory difficulties can be resolved.