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Dunn County opposes state budget amendment to restrict local control of shoreland zoning

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  Every summer when Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin turn a thick, green color and the lakes smell so putrid it becomes difficult or impossible to enjoy water recreation, Dunn County residents wonder why “somebody isn’t doing something.”

In 2012, the Dunn County Board approved a shoreland zoning ordinance to help reduce runoff that feeds the algae blooms in Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin.

But now the state legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has introduced a paragraph in the state budget bill that would not allow counties to be more restrictive than the state in regulating shoreland zoning.

The Dunn County Board approved a resolution at the June 17 meeting to say they are opposed to a state budget amendment restricting local control.

Dunn County has some of the most impaired waters in the state, so the county needs stronger shoreland standards, not weaker standards, said Dunn County Board Supervisor Bob Walter, who also is chair of the Planning, Resources and Development Committee.

“Why should Dunn County be less? It makes no sense,” Walter said.

Toxic blue-green algae is a health hazard that can kill pets who drink the water and can cause skin rashes in both pets and people who come in contact with the water.

According to a letter dated June 15 to state legislators from 16 different groups such as Trout Unlimited, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and the West Wisconsin Land Trust, poor water quality also reduces the value of lakeshore property.

According to the letter, over 30 county shoreland zoning ordinances would be impacted by the policy item in the state budget to restrict local control, including Adams, Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Douglas, Dunn, Florence, Forest, Green Lake, Iron, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Monroe, Oneida, Polk, Portage, Richland, Rock, Sawyer, Sheboygan, Vilas, Washburn, Washington, Waupaca, Waushara and Wood.

Wisconsin has a total of 72 counties.

According to background information included with the resolution approved by the Dunn County Board, “Paragraph #23 of Motion 520 contains significant policy implications, and is being inserted into the budget bill, rather than being taken up in regular legislative session. When the budget bill reaches the legislature, legislators can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ regarding the entire budget as presented by the Joint Finance Committee. The motion takes away the control and flexibility counties have had for many years to decide what is best for them in terms of shoreland zoning regulation …”

The goal Dunn County’s shoreland protection ordinance is to provide a buffer zone to reduce or eliminate the amount of run-off going into lakes and streams carrying phosphorus and other nutrients that feed the toxic algae blooms. The soil in this part of Wisconsin is naturally high in phosphorus.

Dunn County’s shoreland zoning ordinance requires a 35-foot buffer zone.

The ordinance allows property owners a “viewing corridor” and also allows a 15-foot wide access corridor to the water. Viewing corridors are 30 percent of the shoreland frontage or 200 feet, whichever is less.

Nothing in the ordinance requires the access corridor to be mowed, but if landowners choose to mow the access corridor, the vegetation can be no less than 12 inches in height.

A buffer zone requires three layers: ground cover, underbrush and over story.

The state budget amendment also changes long-standing regulations that currently limit non-conforming structures to maintenance and repair and instead would allow non-conforming structures to be completely replaced within the same footprint and would allow vertical extensions up to 35 feet in height.