MADISON – More than forty years after they were first adopted, state shoreland development rules have been updated to better protect Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers.
Lawmakers last week approved revisions to rules the state Natural Resources Board adopted Nov. 13, 2009. Enactment of the updated rules is the culmination of seven years of discussion on the topic, tens of thousands of public comments and dozens of public meetings and hearings.
Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank said the revised rules represent “a significant step forward in improving the protection of the lakes and rivers that belong to all Wisconsin citizens, while providing for flexibility for shoreland property owners.” Frank said, “As Wisconsin grows in the decades to come, these new modernized shoreland protections will help safeguard Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes and rivers, improve fish and wildlife habitat, enhance water quality, and promote sustainable development.”
Frank noted beneficial changes in the rules include: Improving vegetation standards and prohibiting clear-cutting; ensuring management decisions are made based on land and water conditions, rather than an arbitrary 50 percent valuation of a building; giving homeowners flexibility to improve their properties without requiring the time-consuming process of getting a county variance – also saving counties time; and implementing for the first time an impervious surface standard to protect both habitat and water quality from runoff pollution. He noted that the rules also allow homeowners the flexibility of employing mitigation tools when developing properties to minimize increased run-off pollution.
County governments will now begin the process of updating their shoreland development rules to be consistent with or exceed the state’s rules, and will have two years to do so once the rules are officially published in early 2010.
When the rules are enacted locally, owners of existing homes and buildings will not have to do anything different unless they propose a major change on their property, like remodeling or expanding their home. Then they may have to take steps to offset the potential impacts from their project: increased water runoff, loss of plants to filter runoff and provide wildlife habitat, and impacts on their neighbors’ and lake and river users’ scenic views. The statewide rules require the counties to determine what such “mitigation” requirements and options will be.
“We’re happy to finally bring these rules into the twenty-first century,” says Frank. “A lot of people worked hard to make this happen: DNR staff, the Natural Resources Board, the River Alliance, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, the Wisconsin Builders Association, and the Wisconsin Lakes Association, county staff, and thousands of citizens who provided comments.” Frank also thanked the legislature and particularly legislative committee Chairs Representative Spencer Black, Senator Jim Holperin and Senator Mark Miller for their input and review prior to adoption of the final rule.
Frank stressed that the rules were just one tool Wisconsin uses to protect lake and river shorelands. Lake classification efforts, financial incentives to encourage property owners to restore shorelands, state, local and private efforts to buy sensitive shorelands to protect them, and technical assistance and education for landowners to help them maintain natural shorelands or restore them are among those tools.
Wisconsin’s shoreland protection laws were first adopted in 1966 and the standards were set in 1968 and gave counties two years to adopt them. The standards largely apply to unincorporated areas -- those outside city and village boundaries.
Key statewide minimum rules can now be found online. Counties may adopt more protective standards, so the final rules that property owners must meet depend on what happens at their county level, says Gregg Breese, DNR shoreland program manager.