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Assembly approves water development, property rights bills (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Shoreline property owners would have more leeway to dredge and build structures on bodies of water under legislation the Wisconsin Assembly advanced Tuesday despite concerns from minority Democrats that the proposals would harm the state’s waters.

The bill would make sweeping changes to statutes and regulations governing construction in water bodies, with one of the biggest changes involving waters designated as areas of special natural resource interests, or ASNRIs.

Under current law, such areas include waters of significant scientific value that contain endangered or threatened species, wild rice waters, ecologically significant coastal wetlands along Lakes Michigan and Superior and wild or scenic rivers. Construction permits in such areas require builders to meet a long list of standards.

The bill would remove the requirement that an ASNRI have significant scientific value and prevent the Department of Natural Resources from designated an ASNRI based on scientific value without legislative approval beginning in 2017.

The legislation also includes changes that would make dredging and filling wetlands easier.

The bill would create a general permit authorizing shoreline property owners to dredge 25 cubic yards of material from an inland lake and 100 cubic yards of material from outlying waters annually. The DNR’s review of alternatives to filling wetlands would be limited to options consistent with the scope of the project and maintenance work on roadside ditches that affects wetlands could be done without a permit.

The measure’s authors, Rep. Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake and Sen. Frank Lasee of De Pere, contend the measure will cut red tape, clarify regulations and puts more power in property owners’ hands. A host of business associations, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, and the Wisconsin Builders Association, support the bill.

A number of environmental groups, including Clean Wisconsin, the Clean Lakes Alliance and the state’s Sierra Club chapter, oppose it. Assembly Democrats railed against the bill on the chamber floor, warning the measure gives shoreline property owners permission to damage water bodies and aquatic habitats.

“You do not go into a body of water with a general permit and start dredging things up and think you’re making things better,” Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said. “This is bad for Wisconsin. This is bad for Wisconsin’s outdoor heritage. It will damage things.”

Republicans control the chamber, thought, and in the end lawmakers adopted the bill on a 57-39 vote. The bill goes next to the state Senate.

The Assembly also passed another bill Tuesday sponsored by Jarchow and Lasee that would expand property owners’ rights. The measure prohibits counties from imposing development moratoriums, forbid municipalities from blocking property owners from selling or transferring the title to their land and block counties from regulating repairs on structures legally located in shore land setback areas.

The bill also would require judges to resolve any question about the meaning of a zoning ordinance in favor of property owners. Undeveloped land zoned for residential, commercial or manufacturing use would be taxed at 50 percent of its value.

The Assembly passed that bill on a 56-39 vote with almost no debate. It now goes to the Senate as well.

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