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Aghaming Park conundrum (03/22/2009)
By John Edstrom

Part of John Latsch’s enduring legacy to Winona, Aghaming Park, has received less than responsible stewardship from the city of Winona lately. Across the river from Latsch Island in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, it is just downstream from the Wisconsin end of the Old Wagon Bridge, recently renovated, 1900 acres of what should be nearly pristine fish and wildlife habitat in mixed swamp and woodland. Unfortunately, it has become the haunt of slovenly campers and partiers who leave a rancid mess behind, and a lawless off-road element that has destroyed roads, gates, and delicate habitat.

Particularly galling is the lurid graffiti slathered all over the bridge, which was recently restored at great cost by the generosity of an anonymous benefactor. His philanthrophy has not received very good stewardship either.

The city of Winona owns it and has (or should have) responsibility for its care, but Aghaming Park is unique, not only as a natural setting, but also as a political one. It is owned by the city, but is situated in Buffalo County, Wisconsin.

Winona police, who patrol Latsch Island where the Wagon Bridge comes down in Minnesota, would be well-placed to keep an eye on the park, but they do not have jurisdiction there. In addition, according to Police Chief Frank Pomeroy, there is a liability issue as well because of the jurisdictional difficulty.

The city has apparently pursued an arrangement with Buffalo County whereby Winona could be granted authority to police the park, but the Buffalo County District Attorney has declined an agreement for whatever reason, at least for now. That leaves law enforcement in Aghaming Park in the hands of the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department which would have to send its limited resources over the bridge into Minnesota in order to enter the park in the first place.

So everyone washes their hands of responsibility and turns a blind eye to the problem, and ironically, lawbreakers and vandals are free to pursue their piggish frolics directly under the noses of six different armed government law enforcement agencies. Count them: Winona Police, the Buffalo and Winona County Sheriffs’ Offices, Wisconsin and Minnesota DNR, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (You might also include the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, although I don’t remember seeing any of those people packing side arms.)

It is hard to believe that this puzzle couldn’t be sorted out with a little creative thinking. (And how is it that savvy high school boys in my day always avoided driving to that area to make out, sure of being rousted by Winona cops?)

First of all, ask yourself how it is that Winona Sheriff’s deputies can patrol both sides of the river, when they don’t have jurisdiction in Wisconsin. There has to be some perfectly simple arrangement in place, or lawbreakers could merely cross over to the Wisconsin side of the channel where Minnesota authorities can’t follow.

For that matter, can a lawbreaking motorist make a getaway over the Interstate Bridge? Speeding teenagers and drunks try it once in a while, only to find themselves deeper in trouble. What is the arrangement there?

If a jurisdictional agreement truly can’t be arrived at with Buffalo County, why couldn’t Winona Police simply act as private security, caretakers, or whatever, and hold miscreants until Buffalo County arrives. (And would authorities there really prefer to chase their officers across the Interstate Bridge to deal with this rather than somehow deputize Winona Police?)

Never forget, the only way to exit Aghaming Park in a vehicle is across the Old Wagon Bridge into Winona and Minnesota. This physical arrangement neatly precludes the necessity of chasing teenagers through the woods or in their cars.

Think about it this way. It takes some kind of motorized vehicle to make much trouble over there in Aghaming Park. If you are so inclined, but understand that if detected, you can’t get out of there in your four-wheeler or monster truck except across the bridge where officers are waiting to detain you (and confiscate your vehicle?) wouldn’t you go somewhere else to raise hell? And don’t tell me that we can’t enforce Winona laws on Wisconsin lands. What would be wrong with an ordinance levying heavy fines for crossing Winona’s bridge to vandalize Winona’s park? Isn’t that the way the Mann Act works?



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