Olson may author bill to overturn DNR dock ruling
BEMIDJI - Minnesota lake homeowners will be allowed platforms at end of their docks under a general permit issued last week by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The move legalizes platforms up to 170 square feet, which were temporarily allowed this past year as the DNR figured out how to regulate them. The new permit grants the platforms through November 2012.
The decision, however, goes against what Minnesotans want and instead favors special interests, such as dock manufacturers and real estate agents who want an extra selling point in so-called "party platforms," state Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, said Saturday night.
"We had a one-year general permit for this last season that allowed a smaller platform, but it was the first time under state law we have ever allowed any kind of platform to be built on the end of a dock," Olson said.
The idea, Olson said she was told by the DNR, was to put a moratorium on enforcing dock sizes to give people a chance to remove extra platforms at the end of docks, a window of opportunity in which they wouldn't receive a fine.
"In fact, it's very clear even from the DNR Web site, that from the commissioner's perspective, there has always been an intent to issue a general permit that would allow these dock platforms from the very be-ginning, before they ever had a public hearing," Olson said.
Disappointed that the DNR now legalized the larger dock platforms, Olson says she is considering authoring a bill to negate the DNR decision and ban dock platforms.
"Image every 50 or 100 feet around our lakes in Minnesota, we're suddenly allowing these large plat-forms to be built," she said. "Does it make any sense that we have setback requirements and requirements that designate lot sizes and requirements that govern lakeshore property people own because of its impact on the lake? But suddenly we're allowing these large private structures to be built out on the public water?"
Olson's already been asked by a Senate panel chairman to draft a bill. "I was hoping not to have to consider that possibility. I was hoping that the DNR would follow the recommendation of the majority of the public and the recommendation of its task force, and that that type of intervention would not be necessary. But obviously, they haven't done that."
Kent Lokkesmoe, director of the DNR's Division of Waters, in his decision issued Wednesday, said the new general permit would authorize the installation of a single, temporary platform at the lake end of a dock. The dock providing access to the platform must not exceed 5 feet wide. The platform measure including the last access dock section shall not exceed 170 square feet, or the platform measured separately from the last section shall not exceed 120 square feet.
The permit is valid only for lakes that have a General Development or Recreational Development shoreline lake classification, Lokkesmoe said. Also, counties and lake conservation districts can prohibit the use of the permit through a resolution.
"Please note that docks and dock platforms exceeding 8 feet in more than one dimension, in excess of this permit must be removed or be authorized by individual permit," the DNR official said. "Several lake-shore owners have asked to keep what was 'legal before the rules changed'. The permit rules have never authorized docks wider than 8 feet. This general permit provides flexibility for lake access while protecting Minnesota's shorelines."
Two Minnesota House Republican leaders who were in Bemidji on Thursday to talk about upcoming legislative issues made a point to comment on Olson's work to draw more attention to the dock issue.
"As I travel the lakes ... I don't see a problem today," said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, Republican whip and member of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. "Maybe you can tell me how many hot tubs and screened-in porches you've seen on people's docks in Lake Bemidji."
McNamara, saying he has a cabin in the Brainerd area, "I've never seen a hot tub or a screened-in porch on a dock. A lot of people have docks of different sizes and truly a dock allows them not to disturb the shoreline."
McNamara said he wasn't sure "we're looking for a problem that doesn't exist today. I just hope we move cautiously as we move down this road."
Neither McNamara nor House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said that they were aware the DNR had issued its decision the day earlier, but were hopeful that a ruling wouldn't put the DNR into the role of policing dock sizes.
"We're talking about restricting the platform at the end of a dock, but the reality is that 170 square feet would have the average shore station substantially larger than that, and we don't regulate that," McNamara said.
"We don't need to get in the face of everybody about every issue," he said. "The facts are not supporting that we should be going down this road."
"People have better things to do with their money than send somebody out with a tape measure to every lake cabin in the state," Seifert said. "I look at all the needs we have, that money can be used for filtering water and cleaning up our environment."
Olson said she had hoped that partisanship wouldn't enter the issue, but alleged that it already had with the structure of public hearings held earlier this summer.
A bill by Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, mandated four public hearings on any proposed DNR rules, and one in Pequot Lakes was the only hearing in the Senate 4 district. It saw a half dozen GOP legislators and representatives of dock manufacturers and real estate agents, Olson said.
And she questioned the process, as the DNR skirted the formal rule-making process which allows citizens to petition to have the rules heard before an administrative law judge.
"It's really unfortunate that they have attempted to circumvent the normal process that would look into all aspects of how docks relate to the health of the lakes," Olson said. "The circumvented the process and implemented a very sweeping change."
From a political standpoint, Olson said she believes Republicans such as Seifert and McNamara "have miscalculated this issue. I think there are a few loud outspoken people who have taken positions that are really not supportable from a responsible lake management standpoint, and they're not supportable factually."
There are certain special interest groups, Olson said, "that it appears that certain Republicans are at-tempting to pander to with respect to this issue because they are not following the directives of the public in the public hearings that were held."
And, she said, "their positions are very much opposed by the general public."