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  • Writer's pictureKim Christesen

An Honest Lie

Updated: Oct 6, 2022


I’ve been struggling with writing an update to our Ski Hill saga. After all, there’s no need to continue stomping on a dead spider, except for the fact that I hate spiders. Just the other day, I contemplated torching the house when my husband decided to remove said arachnid from our front porch with his shoe. Sometimes you just need to go that extra mile. Consider me an overachiever, I guess.


So grab a beverage of your choice. We've got some ground to cover, and I’d like to make the most of our time together. We need to decide if the people in power are lying, mistaken, or just plain stupid.


REMEMBER WHEN

Think back, if you will, to the summer. It was the start of August. There were still a few weeks left of vacation before the yellow buses would gather your adorable little munchkins and cart them back to school. Maybe then you’d be able to pee in peace.


Without warning, your social media blew up one night with talk of a year-round Ski Hill proposed by the same guy who owned that nasty dirt hill on Wilson Rd. Desperate for more information, you start following a group of residents and non-residents as they begin digging and providing public records, FOIA information, and actual facts not found in the proposal put forth by the developer. To say you’ve got questions is an understatement.

A public hearing followed by two other meetings is scheduled for August 15, and about 120 people show up to the Village Hall, which cannot hold them. This is the first time the Stop the Dump group visually and verbally communicates to members of the board.


While residents and non-residents (whose road was the proposed construction entrance and whose homes and lives would be most affected) had spoken during previous meetings, the August 15 hearing showed them to be more organized, outspoken, and well-researched--a pattern repeated at subsequent meetings on September 6 and 19.

It was at this August 15 hearing when Jeanne Dauray, during her public comment (1:09:20), explained to the board that she had gotten up extremely early that morning to call the UK and speak to the engineering team herself. You see, Jeanne has engineering expertise in her professional background, so she knows what she’s doing.


By now you’re familiar with the Snowflex.com website, you know it’s a turnkey business. And as per Jeanne’s UK phone call, Briton Engineering does not use an intermediary, they do not use subcontractors. “They do these projects themselves, start to finish, on their own,” she said. Briton brings out the product, lays it out, and works with the owner/operator to show them how to care for and maintain the product. But as Jeanne stated, “It is highly specialized work, and they do not give it to someone else to do." Therefore, Briton is fully involved in the design and engineering process from the start.


As of August 15, 2022, Briton “had no knowledge of any engineering projects going on here in Illinois.” Jeanne was told to call the US representative, you know, the one who lives in Lake Geneva and is 0 for 2 in Snowflex sales in Wisconsin.


His name is Dieter Strum, and he’s a lovely gentleman. Jeanne called Dieter, said he was an excellent salesman, and that yes, Dieter had spoken with Dan Powell, but their conversations did not “move forward in terms of a concrete business plan.”


THE TIME BETWEEN

Now kids, what’s the first thing you do when someone calls you out in public and says you didn’t do your homework? Pull out the homework, of course.


There was an entire month between August 15 and the eventual vote on the ordinances to adopt the Ski Hill on September 19, when either Dan Powell or the village could have posted the homework for all of us to see. Neither did so.


An updated annexation agreement was uploaded to the village website on September 15, which included various edits to the original annexation agreement (examples: changes were made to the definition of “clean fill” and an addition was made to provide a berm along Townline Road to “shield” the construction project from the view of homeowners).


However, no update was ever made to Mr. Powell’s original business plan. No response to questions about project costs, studies showing a need for a ski hill, traffic studies which included projected construction traffic, or even the proof that he had done more than just spoken to Dieter Strum in Lake Geneva were ever added to his plan with the pretty pictures of his hill and lodge.


Nor did the village itself post any further information regarding questions, comments, or concerns raised by citizens. Following the three August 15 meetings, the village included a document within the Committee of the Whole Packet (page 5-6) and a letter from David Shaw, attorney for Dan Powell (page 7-9). While the village portion addresses various Ski Hill topics like property ownership, location, traffic, and dust, it never discusses the fact that Briton does not have any concrete plans with CHDS in terms of design, engineering, or installation, nor does it say it has been working with Mr. Powell for 10 months--a detail which will become important soon.


Of course, the only other time the village communicated with residents regarding the Ski Hill project was a few days before the September 6 village meeting to tell us that a vote on the project would not be on the agenda, that we shouldn’t believe everything we read on social media, and that we should take the time to research the issue for ourselves.


Challenge accepted, jackass.


KING OF THE WORLD...I GUESS?

Everyone loves a moment of triumph, when the hard work pays off or the surprise you’ve been planning is finally sprung. Sometimes you’re the one with the mic drop moment. Other times, it’s the big guy with the puffy ego calling out all the naysayers, waving around the documents, proving himself innocent. Well, at least he thinks he is.


Unfortunately, our main character seems to have spent more time planning the big reveal, savoring his “gotcha” moment in front of a public much aligned against his pet project, instead of actually reading and dissecting what was provided.


On Monday, September 19, over 200 people arrived at John T. Magee Middle School to voice their concerns and opposition to the Ski Hill proposal. Ordinances for its annexation were on the agenda, and finally we would have an answer regarding the future of this project.

During the public comment, Mayor Kraly (1:09:35) specifically addressed “the person that said they went to Snowflex” and stated that they didn’t know him (meaning Dan Powell). This, I assume, is in reference to Jeanne Dauray’s August 15 comments, again over a month before, during the public hearing regarding the annexation agreement.


Mayor Kraly dramatically pulled out his metaphorical smoking gun, claiming Snowflex had a letter, saying they had been working with Dan Powell for 10 months, and Snowflex (aka Briton Engineering, Snowflex is the product) would take care of the slope design, engineering, and supervision of how the hill would be built.


Further, the mayor also had a second letter stating Powell had more than enough water using a retention pond, according to Briton’s calculations, so no well would be needed. Thus, a stipulation that no well would be drilled was put in the annexation agreement.


You see folks, it’s all legit, and I have the letters to prove it! Cue the music, all hail the king…I guess?


Amid his talk of these letters, many in the audience asked “Can we see them?” and following his comments, (1:11:00) the audio continues in this way:


Woman: “I have questions.”


Mayor: “There is no more questions.”


Man: “You never answer questions.”


The audience makes a few more statements, followed by the mayor asking for a motion to adopt the first ordinance pertaining to the Ski Hill. And so begins the first of the three votes, which thankfully went in favor of the community, thus putting an end to the nightmare that would have been another dumping ground.


Here’s the thing about letters and government and making them part of the public record….


HELLO FOIA, IT'S ME KARMA

Whatever it is you’re drinking, you may need a splash of vodka to handle this next bit of information. Let's look at these letters, shall we?


Following a FOIA request to the village, which was made citing the audio from the September 19 meeting and referenced the letters accordingly, we were provided with the following:

The first set of letters is dated 9 days after the August 15 public hearing, in which Jeanne rats out Dan Powell for having made nothing more than a cursory phone call or two to Dieter Strum in Lake Geneva.


This letter is written using the (now late) Queen’s English, as you can note from the spelling of the word “Center” and the way in which the date is written.


However, instead of having Dieter, or one of his staff members, write a letter asking for confirmation of their conversations, which were likely only cursory at best, Dan went straight to the top.


Brian Thomas is the inventor of Snowflex. That’s like asking Jeff Bezos to write a letter saying you really did plan to order that birthday gift for your wife last Tuesday, even though it’s nowhere to be found in your order history. Except you know Jeff probably doesn’t write his own letters. He has a staff member do that, and then the staff member signs it with an electronic stamp.

Notice the intended “plan to order” in my analogy. Because that’s all this letter is good for. “The proposed project is a robust concept” and “with the right levels of investment” combined with “We appreciate your interaction” are nothing more than empty platitudes without the follow through. Either way, you better run and get some flowers at CVS, because you’re about to sleep on the couch.


And if one dozen roses isn't enough to make it up to your wife, maybe a second dozen will help. Of course, you should probably make sure half of them are actually alive and not droopy.


Dan is at least smart enough to know that the first letter isn’t enough for even a 4th grader to go along with the Ski Hill project, because it lacks detail. So, enter letter number 2, written the same day, and also signed by Brian Thomas' electronic stamp.

This one seems to lay out more of what Dan was going for, the design and engineering features Briton will be responsible for implementing. You’ll note the first three paragraphs and the final paragraph are exactly the same in both letters. I’m guessing Dan needed a few “edits” and made some suggestions, which resulted in the second letter.


What I can’t figure out is why he submitted both of them to the village, nor why the village kept both. Rough drafts go in the recycling bin, final drafts go to the teacher. How do we not know this in 2022?


THE RETENTION POND

The original annexation agreement left room for the possibility that a well could be drilled, or at least the possibility of digging a well, was discussed by Dan Powell at the June 28 Planning & Zoning meeting. The audio is available here. Obviously, other area residents who are on well water had their concerns.


Briton Engineering has never built a Snowflex Center using a retention pond. Our math calculations using Dan’s original Ski Hill proposal of 60 acres showed that the size of his pond would not supply enough water, regardless of the fact that Dan claimed an 80-85% recycle rate for the water when Briton claims a recapture rate of 70%.

Knowing this issue would not just “go away” because environmentalists tend to be an outspoken bunch, Dan again went to the Big Boss at Briton to get his homework done before the September 19 meeting. He received the following two letters from Brian Thomas, dated September 1 and September 3, and provided them to the village. Mayor Kraly cited the letter in his speech to the public when he stated “no well would be drilled” on the Fairfield property, and wording to this effect was added in the updated annexation agreement.


Once again, Dan likely thought this letter a little light on details, because, if anything, we’ve proven we know how to do math. Thus, two days later, a second letter is received with the math involved.


However, my impression is that the sentence “So no mains water for that will be necessary” is written by someone unfamiliar with American English. To be honest, I’m not sure how the Welsh, Scots, or Brits would phrase it. When Jeanne called the UK, she got the feeling she was talking to someone with a Welsh accent, but Briton could have offices all over the UK or Europe.


Glancing at the second letter, let’s dissect a few things.

First, we have “Round the Lake” instead of Round Lake, no idea why Libertyville is even mentioned, and a very odd spelling of Illinois. Someone either doesn’t have a spell check in their home country, or it doesn’t have the names of US states included.


Again, I'm pretty sure this isn’t from Dieter or his Lake Geneva office. Why? Because Dieter Strum is an academy award-winning special effects coordinator, and the Snowflex gig is a side hobby for him. There is a ton of information about him online, and while it doesn’t say where he was born, he definitely grew up in Milwaukee, went to high school in Milwaukee, and went to college in Wisconsin. He was on his high school ski team, so skiing has always been a passion for him. Jeanne spoke to him and did not detect an overseas accent, and being from this area means he’s not going to pass along a letter that misspells Illinois.


This letter is likely from a staff member overseas--and probably a different one from the others. I wonder if Brian Thomas ever even saw any of the letters himself. I’m going to take a guess and say no.


Next, the square footage listed above converts to 2.7 acres. Is that the area Dan intended to cover with Snowflex? I don’t think we will ever know, because Dan never really made that part clear in his proposal. What he told us, what he told the village, and what he told Briton could be three totally separate things.


This document proves that math works and that Google conversions are the savior of us all. Beyond that, the calculations are meaningless if the source lies to you.


Mayor Kraly thought he was declaring victory by sharing these letters, proving this project legitimate, and that we mere citizens had been wrong these past two months. We should be ashamed of our behavior. This is a good business proposal, backed by a solid company that will install everything, so let’s move on and vote.


I'm sorry, but WTF!? These letters do nothing more than prove Dan Powell called up someone at Snowflex headquarters overseas after getting called out in public, and had them write the equivalent of “The dog ate my kid’s spelling homework, please accept this random math page instead.” This is why I’m not sure if our elected officials are misguided, dishonest, or stupid. Perhaps there’s a combination of all three at play, because I honestly don't know what to think anymore.


HERE'S THE THING

Mayor Kraly was part of the Ski Hill proposal from the start, definitely since the June 28 Planning and Zoning meeting at which he was present. Since there is a rather involved process that any project needs to go through before it comes to the P&Z committee for a vote, I feel confident saying village staff, certainly Katie Parkhurst, and likely the mayor, were working with Dan Powell in the months prior to June 28 to assist him with whatever steps, paperwork, etc. were needed to make it that far.


We all know this wasn’t the first time Dan Powell attempted to sell his year-round Ski Hill idea. He had, in fact, been in talks with Lake County, and, according to Mr. Powell’s lawyer in his published comments from August 15 (page 7) “entered into a contract to acquire an adequate site, the closing on which was totally dependent on the County’s approval of the ski facility.” Mr. Shaw, the attorney, goes on to state that the application to approve that ski facility was filled out, but then COVID happened, and Dan began to pursue a site here in Round Lake instead. Thus, Mr. Powell withdrew his Lake County application on August 28, 2021.


Given that statement, Dan was already thinking about a site in Round Lake about a year before he came to the P&Z meeting. He was already talking to the Light Family, owners of the property at Fairfield and 120. He was thinking about how he can take his “ski hill” concept and work it for that space.


Add two months to August 2021, and it’s October 2021. Now you are 10 months out from the date of the August 24, 2022 letters above from Brian Thomas. Except Dan probably isn’t talking to Brian at that time, he’s talking to Dieter up in Lake Geneva. He’s getting some basic Snowflex information, a good sales pitch, but he’s not making concrete plans. Building a ski facility was never the goal anyway.


Fast forward 10 months, and Mayor McGenius is pulling out this letter like it’s proof of some unsolved murder. Again, how dumb do these people think we are? Did those who embraced and voted for this plan actually believe we would simply smile and wave as it walked through each step in the approval process with nary a complaint?


THE FALLOUT

There will be more to come in the months ahead. Six Village of Round Lake Public Offices are up for election in April 2023, and they are as follows…

You can find more information regarding election petition packets on the village website.


The audio for the most recent Board of Trustees (18:45) meeting from October 3 is now available, as is the audio for the Committee of the Whole (12:58) meeting from the same evening. Meetings seem a lot shorter when contentious ski hills aren’t on the agenda.


For those still interested in the Wilson Rd. property, the current lawsuit, and the likelihood that Dan may skip town at some point and leave us, the taxpayers, holding the bag to clean up his mess on that site. Bob Shutan makes a lovely public comment during the Board of Trustees meeting (audio 11:20) about the cost of the cleanup.

Apparently, there’s so much more going on with CHDS and Wilson Rd and Dan Powell than we ever thought possible. And all it took was for him to offer us a Ski Hill to learn about it.


FOIA Queen Susan Pribyl made the request with the village, and they have known since July 8, 2022 (twenty days before Dan's Ski Hill plan was brought before the Planning & Zoning committee for the public hearing) how much it will cost to clean up Dan’s Dump. If you’d like to dive into the Treasury reports and budgets available on the village website, please do.


The village spent $11,000 annually in inspections at CHDS with Baxter & Woodman, but has a forecast revenue of $125K according to the July 2022 budget (page 9). Yet it will cost us nearly $500K to clean up the site if Dan skips town. His EPA permit is up for renewal in 2 years, his main business is under civil suit, and the village board that owns his property could change entirely in 6 months.


It's time for Round Lake to look ahead, think about the kind of future it wants, the public officials representing our interests, and the employees working in our village offices paid for with our tax dollars. Because honestly, we deserve more than mistakes, misrepresentations, lies, and letters from "professional" companies who can't even spell the name of the state we live in.












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