Pier and Waterfront Issues
While the PLIA is still not completely satisfied with changes made to the Wisconsin pier law, the regulatory reform bill that recently passed through the senate is a big step in the right direction. What follows is a verbatim press release from Sen.Neal Kedzie's office outlining the proposed changes which have been held up for some time by a special interest group. Sen. Kedzie represents residents of the western half of Pewaukee Lake and is one of the bill's sponsors.
Madison – The Wisconsin State Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 326, a major regulatory reform measure authored by Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) and co-authored by Representative Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), which streamlines various waterway permits issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and removes many of the burdensome regulations placed on pier owners. Kedzie says lawmakers and the DNR worked together for more than a year on the bill, which he believes will help the private sector create jobs by providing more clarity and certainty in the overall permitting process. In addition, he says the pier regulations enacted a few years ago were causing frustration and confusion across the state, leaving property owners wondering if their pier was or was not legal. SB 326 repeals much of the regulations placed on existing piers. “For too long, a confusing web of regulations have been impeding job growth and adding more costs to doing business in Wisconsin – this bill is a significant step towards untangling the web,” Kedzie said. “Further, people who’ve owned a pier for decades should not have to live under a cloud of uncertainty regarding the legality of their pier; SB 326 finally restores common sense to the pier regulations and allows those individuals to simply keep what they’ve always had.” SB 326 allows the DNR to create general permits for minor activities occurring near waterways, while preserving the more customized individual permits for sensitive areas and activities. The bill creates specific timelines in the waterway permit process, while maintaining public notification and input on such permits. It also make a number of smaller changes to various DNR regulations, which the Department requested in order to create more efficiencies and cost savings. In regards to piers, all existing piers are considered exempt from regulation so long as they do not impede navigation or infringe on the rights of other pier owners. In addition, pier owners will no longer be required to register their pier with the DNR. New piers placed in the water could have a loading platform of no more then 200 square feet without a permit, and for the first time, property owners will expressly have the right to place a pier, so long as they work with the DNR on the size, shape, and location of the pier if placed in a sensitive area. “The current regulations are a sore spot for many pier owners who are upset their pier – which may have been in the water for decades – might be considered illegal; it’s time to end that,” Kedzie concluded. “I am very pleased with the bi-partisan vote by the Senate today on this regulatory reform initiative, and am confident it will reach the Governor’s desk in the very near future.”
Success! Most Existing Piers Now Grandfathered
The PLIA has been working with our elected representatives for several years in an effort to change what we thought were unfair and burdensome elements to the 2008 Wisconsin Pier Law that was made retroactive to 2004. We want to thank State Senator Neal Kedzie, who represents the portion of Pewaukee Lake that lies within the Town of Delafield for his efforts, with others, in getting important changes made to the law. While the PLIA still believes further changes are necessary, this is a big step in the right direction. Here is a verbatim press release from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regarding the changes to the law:
MADISON - Most existing piers and wharves are exempt from needing state approval and can be placed in lakes and rivers the same as they've always been under a new law signed April 2, state natural resources officials say.
"Required registration of larger existing piers is eliminated," said Martye Griffin, Department of Natural Resources waterway statewide policy coordinator.
"This means that there are no size requirements to meet; no paperwork to fill out; no registration needed to grandfather your pier or wharf. If your pier was initially placed before April 2012 and doesn’t block your neighbors' ability to access the water, you can repair and maintain your existing pier as is, into perpetuity."
Lawmakers in 2004 passed a law that set size standards for piers and in 2008 created a free, one-time registration system to grandfather in larger piers that did not meet the size standards. The registration deadline was extended last year, and now, the registration system is repealed under Senate Bill 326, which Gov. Scott Walker signed April 2 in Woodruff.
"Pier owners who already sent in a registration form to grandfather their pier and have not heard back yet from the DNR can place their pier in the water this spring the same as they've been doing in previous years. They will be notified shortly that their pier is good to go," Griffin says.
The new law does make some other changes to Wisconsin pier laws, but Griffin notes that they are not effective immediately. "When it's closer to the effective date of these provisions, we'll provide more information on our website and in news releases."
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Martye Griffin (608) 266-2997; Lisa Gaumnitz (608) 264-8942
"Extension Needed as Natural Resource Committee Chairmen Work on New Pier Legislation"
—April 13, 2011 Legislative Press Release
The Pewaukee Lake Improvement Association is heartened by the news that there is an effort afoot in the Wisconsin Legislature to both extend the pier registration deadline and, more importantly, to make changes to the current Wisconsin pier law. As you may know, the Association has made several efforts over the past six or seven years to encourage the development of a pier law that was clear, effective, workable, soundly based, and fair to lake property owners. The current law possesses none of these attributes.
This new initiative is being spearheaded by Sen. Neal Kedzie (800) 578-1457; Sen.Kedzie@legis.wi.gov and Rep. Jeff Mursau (888) 534-0036; Rep.Mursau@legis.wisconsin.gov. Senator Kedzie represents Pewaukee Lake residents who live in the Town of Delafield. Representative Mursau's district is in northeastern Wisconsin.
The PLIA has the following concerns about the current law, among others:
While the final law is better than the DNR pier rule it replaced, the PLIA feels it has several major flaws beyond its general lack of clarity.
The rules were made to take effect four years RETROACTIVELY, so people who installed new piers in good faith after February 2004 and before the time the law was put in place in April 2008 may now be forced to remove significant portions of their piers. This retroactive provision should be eliminated. Whether the four-year retroactive portion of the law will survive a legal challenge is open to some question. We don’t believe it will. The PLIA believes the Wisconsin legislators owe it to the taxpayers to spare the state the cost of losing a lawsuit and change the law before the courts make them do it.
The one-size-fits-all philosophy prevalent in DNR thinking (witness the new unacceptable shoreland zoning rules) results in unrealistically small allowable pier sizes for docks especially on larger lakes (for safe landing and docking of larger boats in all kinds of weather) and for condominium and multi-party access properties. The allowable size of the platform should be up to 600 sq. ft. (instead of 200-300 sq. ft.) with a maximum platform width of 11 ft. and the maximum water depth portion of the rule should be changed from 3 ft. to 6.5 ft. People shouldn't have to own a boat with a deep draft in order to be allowed to have a pier reach water deeper than 3 ft. The number of boats (boat slips, lifts, etc.) allowed for a single-family lake residence should be four for the first 50 ft. of frontage instead of two, and one for every additional 50 ft. or portion thereof. Boats stored on shore or in a boathouse on a marine railway should be exempt from this total. Provisions should be made to allow for more slips than the law currently allows on condominium and multi-party access properties.
The level of development around a lake (rural, suburban, urban, etc.) and the general use of the lake (mainly recreation, wildlife conservation, etc.) should be taken in to consideration along with the size of the lake when pier laws (and shoreline zoning rules for that matter) are developed.
Finally, we believe the "science" used to form the rationale for which some of the changes to the former pier law was based is seriously flawed.
The PLIA urges those interested in seeing modifications to the current 2008 Wisconsin pier law make their feelings heard by contacting the two lawmakers mentioned above AND their local legislators. Pewaukee Lake residents can find contact information for their legislators on the PLIA Related Links page.
On May 27, 2011 Governor Scott Walker signed a bill passed by the Wisconsin Legislature that gives pier owners until April 1, 2012 to register their pier that exceeds size standards set in 2008 as long as the pier was first put in place before February 2004. The Pewaukee Lake Improvement Association continues to work with our state legislators in an effort to improve the law over the next several months.
On Wednesday September 28, 2011 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced a special legislative session focusing on jobs creation. One facet of that initiative is addressing regulatory issues. The PLIA has learned that an effort will be made to change the Wisconsin Pier Law to grandfather all piers (in their current configuration) that are in place at this time and make new piers with loading platforms up to 200 square feet exempt from permitting. New piers with platforms over 200 square feet would require a permit before they can be put in place. While this does address the fairness issue the PLIA has with the law in it's current form, we still find the size limitations and permitting process completely unacceptable and will continue to work with our representatives to get further changes in the law.
If your pier does not meet the DNR's new pier law exemption criteria but was in place before February 2004, you have an opportunity to register your pier with the DNR and receive grandfathered status. Registration must be completed by April 2011. You do not need to register your pier if it meets certain criteria published on the DNR website. The DNR offers an interactive decision tool to help you determine if you will need to register your pier, get a permit, or if action is not required.
The Pewaukee Lake Improvement Association opposed the Wisconsin Pier Regulations when it was being debated in the Wisconsin legislature over the course of several years. While the final law is better than the DNR pier rule it replaced, the PLIA feels it has three major flaws beyond it's general lack of clarity. One, the rules were made to take effect four years retroactively, so people who installed new piers in good faith after February 2004 and before the time the law was put in place in April 2008 may now be forced to remove significant portions of their piers. Secondly, the one size fits all philosophy prevalent in DNR thinking (witness the new shoreland zoning rules) results in unrealistically small allowable pier sizes for docks on larger lakes (for safe landing and docking of larger boats in all kinds of weather) and for condominium and multi-party access properties. Finally, we believe the "science" the law was based on is seriously flawed. Whether the four year retro-active portion of the law will survive a legal challenge is open to some question. The PLIA will endeavor to have the law modified when a more favorable political climate is in place in Madison.
You can download a copy of the Wisconsin’s Pier Regulations and the Piers Exemption Checklist (both PDFs) from the PLIA website. You'll need a copy of the FREE Adobe Reader® (or a similar PDF reader) to read these documents after you download them. To obtain the latest version, if you don't already have a copy, click here. This will open a new window in your browser where you can download the program. Simply click back to this window to continue using this website, then click on either of these (turquoise text) document names above to download that information.
We invite your comments on the Wisconsin Pier Regulations. You can send us an email or click the "Post a Comment" link immediately below this entry.
As of April 13, 2011, legislation has been proposed to extend the pier registration deadline. At this writing, you can find more details in the related story on the home page of this website.