Shoreland zoning

Supporters of county shoreland zoning regulations fear that the environmental quality of northern Wisconsin lakes will be endangered by Act 55, which imposed less restrictive state shoreland zoning rules over tougher county rules in place in counties. However supporters of the act say the new rules simply protect property rights for lakeshore property owners and that Department of Natural Resources rules are adequate to protect the environment.

SHELL LAKE– “I’m just madder than hell that we had to pass that,” Washburn County Board Supervisor Michael Bobin said after the board more than reluctantly passed a lake zoning law that loosened the county’s zoning regulations to comply with the minimum standards set by recent state legislation known as Act 55.

His summary at the board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, mirrored the thoughts of other board members and reflected their frustration and even anger with being forced by the state to do away with the county’s long-standing lake classification system that set development standards after dividing the lakes into three classifications based on existing development and the individual lakes’ susceptibility to pollution and recreational use.

Act 55, passed in the state’s last budget session, mandated that counties cannot be any more restrictive than the state’s controlling law, NR-115, “which is the bare minimum shoreland standards,” Web Macomber, the county’s zoning administrator, told the board.

Bobin said the county “fought hard – I mean it took a lot of work – to develop our lake classification system which really did a good job of protecting the lakes that we have up here, protecting the water quality of the lakes that we have.

“Well, this gets rid of that whole thing ‘cause somebody in Madison didn’t like it where they live, being told they couldn’t mow down to the water. And that’s exactly what happened,” Bobin said.

Supervisor David Haessig said he voted in committee for the new policy that matches state law because “we really don’t have a choice. This is a sad day for all of us in Washburn County, and this is happening across all of our state. It’s a sad day for all of us in Northern Wisconsin.”

“What if we don’t pass it?” Supervisor Steve Sather asked. “What are the consequences?”

Macomber said that NR-115 basically says that if a county does not adopt it, the Department of Natural Resources will come in and administer a floodplain ordinance, “which is hysterical to me.”

“They’re basically saying if the county doesn’t do it, then they will,” he summarized. 

“With what resources?” Sather asked.

“Exactly,” Macomber responded.

“It’s another example of local control being taken away from us,” said Supervisor Susan Hansen.

“It’s an example of legislation that’s designed for one size fits all,” Macomber said, “but it’s written for counties that may have one lake and all the aquatic resources are unfortunately up here. One size does not fit all.”

Supervisor Dennis Wood asked what the payback would be if the county did not approve it in protest, which he said would show “we aren’t all happy about this.” 

“I don’t know,” Macomber said, noting the county has been forced to accept other ordinances, too, such as those governing non-metalic mining. Some counties did approve a resolution protesting Act 55, but to no avail. 

“I guess I don’t know what would happen,” Macomber said. “I’ve asked myself the same question.”

Chairman Tom Mackie said resolutions are coming before the Wisconsin Counties Association opposing Act 55.

“I don’t know if they’re going to do any good,” he said. 

Macomber said if the board does not approve the resolution, he would have to administer the county’s current law, which likely would lead to the county being sued. 

“I would love to protest this,” Haessig said. “I would love to not have us pass this and say, ‘Stick it in your eye.’ But I don’t think it’s a good fiscal policy for this county.”

Bobin described what he called the “ugly truth.” He said a person lives in the county who is a “major contributor to Gov. [Scott] Walker. He had a problem with the zoning on the lake that he lived on. So he complained. Low and behold, the next day, they put in the budget, you know, Act 10 [the budget law], they put in the budget this Act 55 which makes everybody the same and allowed him to do what he wanted. Within a week he contributed, what was it, $65,000 or something to Gov. Walker’s campaign. That is the God’s honest truth.”

The vote came down to 12-7, signalling passage.

Voting yes were Skip Fielder, Tom Mackie, Tom Ricci, Del Stoll, Beth Esser, Chris Thompson, Hank Graber, David Masterjohn, Jim Dohm, Jocelyn Ford, Terri Reiter, and Hansen.

Voting on the no side were Bobin, Nell Lee, Wood, Haessig, Romaine Quinn, Sather, Tammy Hopke, and the three youth representatives.

Supervisors Lynn Hoepner and Steve Waggoner were absent.

Bobin later said the people who voted against it were his “soul people.”


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