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Closure of Menasha lock concerns area businesses, could delay projects

MENASHA, Wis. (AP) — The indefinite closure of the Menasha lock has some local officials and businesses worried that decreased boat traffic will lead to a drop in revenue.

According to records from the Fox River Navigational System Authority, 9,565 boats and 36,749 passengers traveled through the lock in the last five years. In September, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources closed the lock to keep round gobies, an invasive species, from reaching the Lake Winnebago System.

The lock will stay closed for the start of the 2016 boating season, and possibly longer, transforming Menasha from a thoroughfare into a dead end.

“This is huge to have something like this happen,” Diane Schabach, Menasha’s harbormaster, told Appleton Post-Crescent Media. “We’ve had a locks system since 1855 or somewhere around there, and it’s never been anything like this. Who would ever think a tiny 4-inch fish would do it?”

Schabach said boating traffic generates gasoline sales, shopping and dining in Menasha. She said she hopes redevelopment of downtown Menasha will make the town a destination for boaters, instead of a town to pass through.

With the lock closed, boaters can’t go from Lake Winnebago to Little Lake Butte des Morts and the lower Fox River. In addition, boaters at the Appleton Yacht Club can’t reach Lake Winnebago without putting boats on trailers.

Scott Maves, commodore of the yacht club, said the closure would affect revenue and might delay maintenance projects.

Until there’s a solution, the Fox River Navigational System Authority and the yacht club will promote boating on the 13-mile pool of the Fox River between Menasha and Kaukauna.

“There are some beautiful areas down there for boating. It’s just a different mindset,” Maves said.

Sara Schnell, manager at Coldwell Banker The Real Estate Group, said the lock closure hasn’t affected waterfront home sales downstream from Menasha.

“People are hopeful they will come up with a solution,” Schnell said. “At this point, as long as it’s not closed forever, I think we’ll be OK.”

Four round gobies were caught in the Fox River below the Neenah dam late last summer, and authorities immediately closed the Menasha lock to protect the Lake Winnebago watershed and its fisheries.

Kendall Kamke, the DNR’s Oshkosh fisheries team supervisor, said round gobies are aggressive and could displace native fish by eating their eggs and taking over their habitat. On the other hand, gobies could be a food source for native fish.

“It just sort of disrupts the apple cart,” Kamke said. “It’s probably not an experiment that you really want to run when you consider the Winnebago system and its connecting waters make up about 17 percent of the state’s inland water.”

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