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Wetlands bill targets construction conflicts (UPDATE)

A wetlands area in Eau Claire, (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

A bill has been introduced to the Wisconsin Assembly that would make it easier to identify wetland areas, like this one in Eau Claire, for landowners, builders and local governments. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

By Paul Snyder

Disputes between the state and builders over construction projects near wetlands have prompted a lawmaker’s attempt to force better communication between the sides.

State Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, has introduced a bill requiring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provide information about wetlands to landowners, builders and local governments that issue building permits. The bill would establish a $50 fee a landowner can pay for a DNR wetlands map of the property and a $300 fee for a DNR employee to visit a property and mark off wetlands.

“The idea here is making the DNR a little easier to live with,” Bies said. “We want to prevent a situation where an individual went to local town and county governments, got building permits and then had to stop construction because the DNR then said, ‘Hey, you can’t build here.’”

Kewaunee resident Mike Rodrian can relate. The DNR in 2005 told him to stop construction of a storage shed on his property because he was building on wetlands.

“I got all the permits to do it from the town and county and had already spent over $40,000 building it,” Rodrian said. “I had the concrete poured, the walls up and the trusses on, and then the DNR came in and said I had to stop and basically tear it down.”

Rodrian refused, which prompted a state lawsuit the Wisconsin Department of Justice ultimately dropped. The state dropped the case, Rodrian said, because a DNR representative had taken pictures of his property before and during construction without telling him to stop before work began.

Before the state dismissed the case, Rodrian said, the DNR threatened as much as a $5,000 fine for every day he did not tear down the shed. Landowners and builders need protection from such fines, he said.

Kevin Slottke, a registered land surveyor with Milwaukee-based The Sigma Group, said commercial and residential subdivision developers run into the same issues.

“If people don’t know they have wetlands on their property,” he said, “they’re not going to know they need to get the proper information about it.”

Cherie Hagen, the DNR’s wetlands team leader, said she does not know how often the department stops construction or design work because of wetlands interference.

“But it is a common occurrence,” she said. “Are there still instances where people begin projects or start planning and have to stop? I’m sure.”

But Hagen said those instances have declined since last year when the department placed wetland identification tools, including maps, on its Web site.

But Bies said the information still is not getting to the people who need it.

“We’re just trying to get people that heads-up,” he said of his bill.

The DNR supports working with property owners and builders, Hagen said, but the $300 fee for site visits might not be enough.

“Given the state budget and hiring freezes that are in place,” she said, “we’re concerned we’re not going to be able to provide the staff to meet the potential demand.”

The DNR is finalizing an analysis, which should be complete next week, detailing how many people, and at what expense, would be needed to perform several hundred site visits per year. Hagen said Michigan has a similar program that led to about 600 visits in one year.

“We want to help people do their due diligence,” she said. “And this bill will help if we have the right funding for it.”

9 comments

  1. The key comment I made when asked was not mentioned in the article. Many landowners and developers could avoid some of the issues they run into if they would hire a qualified Land Surveyor to provide them with an up to date property survey. Professional Land Surveyors today have access to much more information than in years past. Many clients who have these sorts of problems tried to save a few dollars by using old outdated surveys or bypassing the process all together.

  2. Todd Farnsworthy

    The solution to these issues is to hire qualified consultants who can determine what base infrormation is needed on a specific project. This almost always means starting with a property survey. Beyond that, it should also be the responsibility of municipal planning & approval bodies to verify whether or not projects being approved are in compliance with WDNR (and other) requirements.

  3. I agree that there should be some way for people to learn about wetlands on their property. If the county or city has a building permit process, this is when the question should be asked. Of course, this would mean that each building permit would require someone to visit the site and determine if there were any wetlands. This could get more expensive. My suggestion is that wetlands need to be identified just like flood plains are now.

    Keith
    http://www.pro17engineering.com

  4. There are things at most DNR office locations called Wisconsin Wetland Inventory Maps. One can view them by appointment and some municipal sites may have these maps tied into their GIS system.

    The easiest way is to go to the DNR’s Wisconsin Wetland Inventory site and look over the information there on how to obtain information and maps.
    http://dnr.wi.gov/wetlands/inventory.html

    Its not an exact science and they are not 100% accurate but it would give one a general idea of wetlands are located near a property in question. The only way to be certain is to have a qualified delineator look at the property as not all land surverying firms have qualified delineators to make such determinations.

  5. Here is a list of state qualified wetland delineators:
    http://www.wisconsinwetlands.org/repop/?e_task=disp_alpha

  6. Maxwell Land Surveying – I agree, hiring a professional and licensed surveyor that is up to date with their maps and such is crucial before you build on any land. Although pricing for a survey can be sometimes outrageous, there are plenty of companies who have payment plans and discounts. Research is another inexpensive way to prevent things such as above, find out what you are building on before you start!

    Danielle – Maxwell Land Surveying
    http://maxwell-land-surveyinig.com

  7. Go to whoever issues building permits in your area (probably the city or county) before you begin your storage shed plans. They know where all the wetlands are, and all regulations relating to them. They will also know which other permissions will be required in your area, if any, and who will issue them. Take a copy of the plat, if possible.

  8. Hi,

    I kinda agree with Todd surely the way forward is to hire consultants to provide the initial analysis so that it can be used to determine what steps then need to be taken to ensure the structures meet the WDNR requirements.

    John,

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