Pier pressure off for now
Written by Oconomowoc Focus   
Tuesday, 22 November 2005 11:28

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board has backed down on previously approved new regulations on size and configuration limits for Wisconsin piers.  The agency has released a new study that refutes an older one that said that 16 percent of piers on lakes throughout the state could be deemed illegal and would require modification or a state permit.

Last week, the DNR finished a study of piers on Wisconsin lakes and rivers and determined there are about 187,000. Original DNR estimates had the number at 500,000.

The study was done on 35 lakes in Wisconsin and revealed that only 1 percent of piers can be considered "large" and of a concern to shoreline habitat.

Locally, public officials as well as property owners expressed concern over initiatives.

Don Wiemer, administrator and police chief for the Village of Oconomowoc Lake, estimated that the rescinded pier regulations would have affected 30 percent of the homeowners in the village and said he believed the rules would have been logistically difficult to administer.

Wiemer pointed out that the new rules would have meant increased manpower to review, notify, and in some instances force modifications.

The rules in question were approved and adopted by the DNR Board at its September meeting, but the board voted last week to rescind those rules.

The controversial rule changes would have required one-time permits for piers, as well as individual review and approval of larger ones.

According to the DNR Web site, Wisconsin Act 118, passed last year by the Wisconsin Legislature and signed by Gov. Jim Doyle, formalized longstanding size limits for piers that would not need permits to be placed in Wisconsin's public waters.

The new regulations would have exempted from those needing a permit piers up to 6 feet wide, having a maximum of two boat sites for the first 50 feet of shoreline frontage, and one additional slip for every additional full 50 feet.

For those outside the exemptions, the DNR would have imposed new rules.

Larger piers would have been grandfathered through a permanent general permit that would have been transferable to future property owners.

Those piers could have been up to 8 feet wide with a loading platform at the end of the pier of up to 160 square feet.

Owners of these piers would have had two years to apply for a $50 permit to take advantage of the grandfathering, and to ensure they would not be subject to future size requirements.

A spokesperson for the DNR has said that now it is possible that cheaper permits would be needed for the larger piers, or the board may decide to eliminate permit regulation altogether.

Rules are still under consideration, and DNR officials have said the majority of Wisconsin piers will pass muster, with only those wider than eight feet and with decks over 200 square feet to be scrutinized.

DNR officials consider these the biggest offenders in terms of potential for harming fish habitat and interfering with boating, swimming and other recreation.

Existing piers in designated sensitive habitat areas would have required a one-time, $50 general permit and DNR review to ensure the piers were properly placed and designed.

Area lakes with the sensitive area designations include Ashippun Lake, Lac La Belle, Lake Nagawicka and Pine Lake. Lakes under investigation and pending sensitive area designations include Okauchee Lake, Pewaukee Lake and Silver Lake.

The DNR based its pier rules on input from a citizen's advisory group and public hearings conducted in late 2004. It is expected to bring back revamped rules at its next meeting, on Dec. 7.

Pier regulation rules would then have to be approved by the state Legislature.

State Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) said it is about time the DNR listened to Wisconsinites and their representatives, who have been very concerned about the proposed new rules.

"I hope the DNR understands how much they are messing with people's hard-earned home values," he said.

"For centuries, piers have been a part of lake and river recreation for thousands of people in Wisconsin," he said. "We must ensure protection of their value."

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