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Swimming, boating ban before city council

First reading approved regarding city-owned ponds
A no swimming sign lines the banks of a city-owned pond along Goldfinch Drive in Tiffin. A recent issue concerning kids wading in the pond has led the Tiffin City Council to consider an ordinance banning most water sports. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

TIFFIN– It’s silly, said City Administrator Doug Boldt, but needs to be done.
“Ironically after however many years we’ve had these detention/retention ponds, we’ve had some issues with kids swimming in the big one, the one with the fountain,” Boldt informed the Tiffin City Council at a meeting Tuesday, June 6.
He requested the council’s permission to draft an ordinance banning swimming, since technically there’s nothing in writing that says people can’t.
“Johnson County (Sheriff’s Office) is coming in and telling them they need to get out of here but we don’t really have an ordinance saying that,” Boldt explained.
Up until the meeting, the city had received several calls about the swimmers, prompting Boldt to put it on the agenda. He said the swimming sparks concerns of safety and damage to public property.
The pond, located off West Goldfinch Drive, was recently installed with a $2,000 decorative fountain.
“That’s what our concern is, that they’re going to get out there and mess around with the fountain,” said Boldt. “We spent a lot of money on that for one thing, and two, it creates a safety issue.”
Public Works Director Brett Mehmen did stress that he believes only one group of kids has been swimming in the pond– despite Public Works installing “no swimming” signs.
“We have some signs up in the meantime and that has moderately deterred people, but not enough,” Boldt admitted.
The ordinance, presented at the June 20 council meeting, would amend the municipal code of Tiffin by adding Section 41.15– Ponds and Detention/Retention Basins. Similar to a North Liberty city ordinance, it prohibits any person from entering the water for swimming, boating, fishing or other water activity in any city-owned body of water.
While Mayor Steve Berner agreed with banning swimming, he was initially hesitant about including boating and said he’s seen people kayaking on the Goldfinch pond.
“A rowboat should be fine. And a kayak. And a canoe,” he argued. “Like our ‘no swimming’ sign, we need ‘if you do boat it’s at your own risk.’”
But, the city would have liability regardless, said City Attorney Bob Michael.
“You would still have liability if you allow boating out there by a kayak,” he said. “You have some immunity through state law. That’s a possible defense, but whether it works or not…”
City Building Official Brian Shay also chimed in.
“I think the whole purpose of that, if someone is going to drown swimming, that’s similar on a rowboat,” he said. “Typically there’s no water sport use at all.”
Unless otherwise allowed, he clarified, pointing to Sand Lake at Iowa City’s Terry Trueblood Recreation Area.
“I think if you’re going to eliminate swimming, you got to get rid of the boating, too,” said city council member Al Havens, who noted he is a kayak owner. “My point of view is, somebody could take a kayak and go somewhere else if they want.”
Fishing would still be allowed, Berner noted, but from the bank. Ice fishing would also be permitted– at a person’s own risk. No one should be on the ice for any other purposes, unless authorized by the city.
Those who ice fish must also be in compliance with state law and Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulations. And, no ice fishing structures are allowed on the ice for more than 12 hours at a time.
Ultimately, Berner agreed boating should be kept in the wording.
“You didn’t write this ordinance yourself,” he said to Boldt. “You copied it from somewhere I’m assuming. It’s been a tried and tested ordinance somewhere.
“If everybody’s okay with it, we can either approve it or not approve it,” he added.
Following a public hearing, for which no one was present, the city council approved the first reading of the ordinance, 3-0. Council members Peggy Upton and Mike Ryan were absent
The second reading is scheduled for the Wednesday, July 5, city council meeting.