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Boat owners waiting on federal hearing after Indiana lake drained to save endangered mussels

Lake Freeman in Monticello is down about six feet, leaving hundreds of boats and wave runners stuck on their lifts.

MONTICELLO, Ind. — Low lake levels are leaving some Indiana boaters and businesses high and dry, and now it's getting attention in Washington, D.C.

Lake Freeman in Monticello is down about six feet, leaving hundreds of boats and wave runners stuck on their lifts.

‘We're not able to get anything out for the winter to winterize it,” said Mickey Lugar, who lives on the lake. “A lot of people store their boats indoors. I'm one of them, and it's just been horrible for us.”

Gary Creigh, who owns Tall Timbers Marina, said he would normally store those boats. Now, his employees can’t remove them from the water. He said they’re doing what they can to winterize boats while still on the lift, but some boats may suffer damage.

“We don't know until spring, but it’s five or six-thousand dollars to replace a motor in a boat. If you have 20 or 30 of those, it's a big impact,” he said.

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered the dam to drain more water from the lake into the river downstream to save some endangered mussels.

But locals think the government overestimated how much.

“When we started studying it, the numbers didn't seem to be right,” John Koppelmann told 13News in September. He sits on the lake levels task force for the Shafer and Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corporation.

13News reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are still waiting for a response.

Senator Mike Braun recently brought it up during a Congressional hearing. 13News asked Braun about it Wednesday.

"There's no guarantee ever when trying to reconcile two issues like that. It doesn't mean we don't give it our best effort, and many times we do have the ability to come to some type of resolution,” Braun said.

“I hope we come to some compromise,” said Creigh. “We've got to figure out something. We need the lake. Community needs the lake.”

A federal court hearing over the matter is scheduled for Monday in Washington.