DNR board approves rules that target 'party piers'
Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 08 December 2005 11:13

State regulators could force the owners of 2,200 of the largest piers on Wisconsin waterways to change or get rid of the structures under rules approved Wednesday by the Department of Natural Resources Board.

Department officials said the rules, affecting about 1 percent of the state's estimated 187,000 piers, are needed to protect lakes from huge piers that threaten aquatic life and the state's fishing industry. Their owners would have three years to decide what to do before facing DNR regulation, which would require applying for a $300 permit.

Republican lawmakers, however, said they would move forward with a bill next week allowing all existing piers to escape regulation regardless of size while setting limits on new construction.

Lawmakers introduced the plan after lakeshore property owners and real estate agents protested rules approved by the DNR board in September, saying they went too far by regulating piers in place for years or even decades.

Seeking a compromise, DNR's board voted unanimously Wednesday to revise the rules to exempt 85 percent of existing piers from regulation. Another 14 percent could register with the state free of charge instead of a $50 fee required in earlier rules.

Regulators would review only the 1 percent of piers that have decks exceeding 200 square feet, the size of a typical living room, to make sure they do not harm public waterway access. The goal is to crack down on so-called "party platforms," loading areas at the end of docks that can exceed 1,000 square feet and contain grills and wet bars.

"Piers are supposed to be for navigatory purposes and not be an extension of your living room into the public waters of this state," said Todd Ambs, administrator of DNR's water division.

DNR board member John Welter said the revisions strike a balance acceptable to property owners and environmentalists.

Thomas Larson, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Realtors Association, which ran ads criticizing the original rules, said, "It's a big improvement of their previous draft, but it's just unclear how many property owners would be negatively affected."

"The unfortunate part about this is it took a statewide ad campaign for the DNR to realize their original rules had a much bigger impact than they expected," he said.

DNR officials called the ads misleading, saying they implied the rules would threaten all piers. But they acknowledged their earlier estimate that 500,000 piers existed in the state was far too high.

Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, said GOP lawmakers still would move forward with their bill exempting all existing piers from regulation. He said he was skeptical of the latest DNR estimate that the rules would affect only 1 percent of pier owners.

"We just need to make sure that we take care of those folks who are out there today and move forward with standards that everyone will understand and be able to live up to," he said.

Gunderson leads the Assembly's natural resources committee, which will discuss the bill next week. His committee and its Senate counterpart have 30 days to ask for changes to the DNR rules or allow them to go into effect.

But DNR officials and some groups urged lawmakers to allow the DNR rules to stay intact, arguing the bill would allow a few property owners to cause environmental damage and impede access to waterways.

The Wisconsin Association of Lakes, which works to protect the state's 15,000 lakes, endorsed the rules as a compromise "that should be acceptable to most lakefront property owners and lake users," executive director Peter Murray said.

Under the revised rules, owners of all new and existing piers would not need a permit if the pier was a maximum 6 feet wide and met other standards. All piers too big to qualify for that exemption but have a deck that is 200 square feet or smaller would be grandfathered in. They would have to register the pier for free to document that it existed before 2004.

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