Sen. Olson introduces docks measure in state Senate

A bill to put new Minnesota dock rules through a formal rule-making process was introduced Thursday by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. New Department of Natural Resources rules issued last month would allow platforms at the end of lake docks that d...

A bill to put new Minnesota dock rules through a formal rule-making process was introduced Thursday by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

New Department of Natural Resources rules issued last month would allow platforms at the end of lake docks that don't exceed 170 square feet. The general permit authorizing dock construction under those rules would expire in five years.

Meanwhile, the Beltrami County Lakes and Rivers Association approved a resolution at its quarterly meeting Wednesday urging the Beltrami County Board to exercise a provision of the new rules that allows counties to "opt out" of the DNR rules.

The measure, which passed with no objection, would ask the County Board to adopt a resolution that essentially disallows the DNR general permit from applying in Beltrami County, reverting to prior rules that prohibit "patio platforms," according to an e-mail from Dann Siems, aquatic biologist with the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District.

"The commissioners may take up the resolution as early as next Tuesday," Siems said.


The matter is not on the Beltrami County Board's agenda for Tuesday, however, and commissioners earlier at a Feb. 18 work session already dismissed the need for action in Beltrami County.

Only Commissioner Jim Heltzer expressed an interest in having the county opt out the DNR rules.

Few decks on Lake Bemidji would be covered by the permit, Commissioner Ron Otterstad said then, with most of them operated by government entities. "This is really not a big deal -- why would we want anything different?"

"You could moor a pontoon boat at the end of a dock and party on that, and it would be bigger and face no rules," added Commissioner Jack Frost, who owns a Lake Andrusia resort, with resorts exempt from the dock permit. "I think there's a little of the sky is falling. The fish love to hang out under my dock."

The issue is more properly the purview of the DNR, Frost said.

But Olson, in a Friday night interview, said she had met with Frost earlier last week along with other resorters and that he expressed support for Olson's bill which would have the DNR take the issue through the formal rule-making process.

"His response was that he was glad that I had introduced the legislation, because he'd like to see the state deal with this and he'd like to see the DNR deal with it," she said.

"The Up North lake that they (resorters) want to promote and put in all their brochures isn't going to look the same if we don't do some pro-active management," Olson said. "If you know there is a likelihood of a problem coming your way, you don't wait until you're in the middle of the problem to do something about it."


It's especially important for lakes, she said, as the expectation is that when rules are established that current conditions are grandfathered-in. "It would be much easier to address this problem now than later."

Olson's bill would reduce the current general permit from five years to one year, and calls for dock rules to undergo the complete rule-making process as specified in state law "to update rules on structures in public waters allowed and permit requirements for those structures ..."

It calls for that process to be complete by March 15, 2009. Co-authored by Sens. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, the bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which Chaudhary chairs. Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, is carrying the companion bill in the House.

Some legislators want a bill that specifies the dock rules themselves, but Olson disagreed. "I'm not the expert in this area, and I don't want to be making a one-person decision about this issue. I want the public to have a chance to weigh in, I want to hear from the experts, I want people to consider traditional riparian law and the kind of things we would typically look at when we make this kind of decision."

Olson fears the general permit now issued that includes dock platforms may have been strongly affected by special interests rather than scientific research, noting that the final permit went against the DNR's own advisory committee it established to take public input last summer.

"It isn't just a consideration of dock platforms," Olson said. "Many of the people who have written to me have said why are you regulating my dock platform when my neighbor has five docks and four boat lifts.

"What we need to do is go back to this issue in the same way that .... alternative shoreland standards are being considered," Olson said. "Now that there's rule-making going on in terms of the alternative shoreland standards, this is the perfect time to put that issue (docks) back into the mix."

The dock rules were initially part of the alternative shoreline standards process, but were removed, Olson said, "because of some pressure that came to bear from higher levels."


The Beltrami County Lakes and Rivers Association resolution urges Beltrami County to opt out the new general permit and to continue under prior dock rules and that DNR conservation officers be encouraged to enforce those rules in Beltrami County until "legitimate new dock rules have been promulgated and adopted."

The new general permit, BCLARA says, "authorizes private citizens to place large 'patio' platform docks in public waters, clearly prohibited under" prior state rules, and that it is "directly contrary to the explicit and unequivocal recommendations of a DNR convened statewide docks advisory committee representing a broad cross section of Minnesota citizens."

BCLARA suggests that there is "well-documented adverse ecological impacts of large dock platform systems (that) include, but are not limited to, habitat fragmentation, reductions in water clarity due to increased algal productivity, increased harvesting of concentrated game fish species, and loss of critical spawning and nursery habitat for fish."

And, BCLARA said, such "patio platforms" act to compromise the character of Minnesota lakes and contribute to "visual clutter."

"This probably isn't on the radar of a lot of people in the Bemidji area," Olson said. "but I have received literally hundreds of contacts from other parts of my district. ... "

Olson has other legislation which would create a Star Lake award program for lake associations that meet certain criteria in keeping their lakes healthy and self-monitored, and she says those meetings have always generated comments on the dock issue from the associations.

"The lake association members that come to these meetings are very concerned about it," the Bemidji Democrat said.

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