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Shoreline debate shifts to counties

Paul Snyder

Strict county rules governing shoreline development could bust up the common ground builder groups are finding with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“The thing about the DNR rules are that they’re minimum baseline standards,” said Brian Standing, a senior Dane County planner working on the county’s shoreline management plan. “The DNR has been encouraging us to exceed minimums where necessary.”

So when Dane County submits its recommendation to the county’s Lakes and Watershed Commission in the next couple of months, Standing said, there could be several limitations placed on construction in rural or developing water areas.

The DNR’s Natural Resources Board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a set of shoreline building rules after years of battling builder groups and local residents who feared the changes would block too much new development or remodeling work.

But Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders
Association, said the DNR’s proposed rules strike a nice balance between development and environmental protection. He said some of the more contentious points, such as restrictions on homebuilders performing renovation work on waterfront property, were eased or removed.

Still, even if the Natural Resources Board approves the rules, they could be subject to legislative tinkering.

State Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison and chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, said the committee likely will hold a public meeting to gather input on the changes.

“It’s been an issue for a long time, and I respect that different interests were able to come together,” he said.

“But it’s up to the Legislature to take an independent look and see if it adequately protects natural resources.”

Black said he reviewed the rules but would not comment on any changes or issues he wants discussed in a hearing. The legislative committee must act within 60 days of receiving state agency rule changes.

Given that timeline, Standing said, the Dane County’s Lakes and Watershed Committee could wait for the Legislature’s final decision before approving new county rules and sending them to the Dane County Board of Supervisors for review.

If the county takes a more restrictive approach to shoreline development, Standing said, it will be  to protect bodies of water that have not already been disrupted or damaged by development. There is a difference, he said, between an urban body of water — such as Madison’s Starkweather Creek, which has little aquatic life — and the Black Earth Creek in northwestern Dane County, a popular trout stream.

Black Earth Creek, Standing said, would warrant stricter development guidelines to make sure waterway remains as pristine as possible.

“The DNR rules would basically protect Starkweather Creek,” he said. “We want to be careful and use scientific rationale to protect the waters that aren’t in urban environments.”

But Mazomanie Trustee Mike Krawczyk said stricter county development rules, regardless of the bodies of water to which they apply, will just drive people away.

“Most landowners are good stewards, and if you look at the engineering techniques behind new development, in terms of storm water and erosion control, there’s a lot there,” he said. “But this is just going to lead to an economic crunch.”

Standing disagreed.

“There’s a lot in place already,” he said. “The standards we’re looking at are pretty close to some of the storm-water control standards the county has.”

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