SYRACUSE – A contentious showdown is brewing in Kosciusko County between boaters there and the DNR that polices the waters.
The boaters say they are being harassed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. But the DNR says its officers are just enforcing the laws.
Many people, though, feel the officers are going overboard.
Things got heated inside the Syracuse Community Center Saturday as boaters and officers from the DNR debated the recent increase in DNR patrols.
Many boaters feel the enforcement on some Kosciusko County lakes borders on harassment.
“The message is out; it’s time to back off,” declared one boater who attended the meeting.
The meeting was put together after numerous complaints about conservation officers stopping boaters. Most who attended said they're being targeted unnecessarily, but DNR says they're just trying to make sure everyone is following the rules.
"The public may be concerned about the amount of patrols that we're providing,” said DNR Lt. John Karris. “I think that once they understand what we're trying to do, then they'll understand a lot better what our intended message is and how we're going to continue the summer."
Last month, the DNR stepped up patrols to crack down on drunk boaters.
State numbers show drinking caused 84% of Indiana boating accidents last year, which is actually down 10% from 2010.
But so far this year, 142 boaters have been charged with boating while intoxicated.
Officers are also making sure all boats are properly registered, all of which is leading to more stops on the water.
The Syracuse Lake Association and State Representative Rebecca Kabachi hope an increase in understanding will help the public and DNR work together.
"We want to make sure that our residents on these lakes come and enjoy the lake without worry of being stopped," said Becky Fox of the Syracuse Lake Association. “But if they don't know the rules, they need to know the rules."
"Ultimately, what we want is for people to enjoy the lake and enjoy it safely and it's just finding the middle," added Kabachi.
"They just need to understand that we're not out here to intrude on them," Harris responded. “We're just out here to enforce the law. We’re going to try to do that as least intrusive as possible."
Official complaint forms were handed out at Saturday's meeting for anyone who feels that they're being harassed.