The legislative session is all but ended for 2016. By any measure, it was one of the most destructive sessions for Wisconsin lakes and shorelands in our history. The Senate comes back on March 15th for one day. We are monitoring a couple of bills that may have potential for sliding through. The one we are most focused on is AB 583, a new measure permitting weekly rental of residential property regardless of zoning, project or development bylaws, etc. – this bill would affect ALL residential property including riparian property, everywhere. I am at a loss for words on this one.
It is clear that the authors have absolutely no need or respect for local control and the role of zoning. Existing residential development and condominium restrictions will be rendered moot if this becomes law. I will keep you posted. This is an issue that deserves contact with your senators, since that is where the bill from the assembly is headed. You can find your senator at http://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/
I would like to briefly review our efforts on behalf of the Wisconsin Shoreland Initiative and provide a summary of the results, including but not limited to legislative activity this session. We began as one lake association, which saw a terrible wrong in one person’s last minute amendment to the budget, Act 55, and felt that we had to do something. My visit with our first lake partner, Black Oak revealed a passion equal to ours. John Annin and Jim Fleming signed up and led me to the fine people on Big Portage and we were off and running. We retained Bill O’Connor and Mary Panzer the next day. Lake associations were contacted by us and by other lake associations and letters of encouragement with checks began to fill the mailbox. Steve Budnik and Bob Martini of the Vilas and Oneida Lake and River Associations broadcast our appeal, as did Anne Kretschmann of the Discovery Center. By “word of email”, we found new alliances in the northwest through Jim Brakken and others. I have not come close to mentioning all of the dedicated people who helped us expand our group – it was fast and furious: emails and so many phone calls kept me too busy to take good notes. I am indebted to all of you and would like to extend a sincere ‘Thank You’
The game plan was simple; first, stop the bleeding and then fix the wound. We asked our attorneys’, Bill O’Connor and Jessica Shrestha, to find a way to avoid a rush to the courthouse by developers with requests for subdivision of large lots. Their research revealed a section of law that had not been included in Act 55. It allowed counties to continue to regulate much of what Senator Tiffany and Representative Jarchow attempted to remove from county jurisdiction. Section 236 of the Wisconsin statutes – subdivision law – provided that safe harbor. They also found in that section, a way for counties to declare a moratorium on development in order to perfect their code. Meetings were quickly set up with the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Legislative Council, to meet with our attorneys to confirm the conclusions of the research. Bill, Jessica and Mary then worked very closely this WCA and ultimately provided the final draft of the WCA guidance letter to all counties. Additionally, DNR also provided a guidance letter that supported these conclusions. Although developers got to a few properties early, like the point on Big Portage, we got to the finish line very quickly, within about 45 days. It was an important success for our new effort and we moved into the second phase.
It became clear in late fall that the current Legislature would not approve a repeal of the shoreland provisions in Act 55. It was a huge heartbreak for all of us, but beyond our control. The two houses were having a hard time working with each other and it became evident that very little was going to change. When Rep. Jarchow began to offer even more new damaging legislation, we put together testimony for our attorney, Bill O’Connor, and myself on a “for information only” basis that made clear the potential harm to our lake environments yet preserved our neutrality and our ability to continue to work inside with Republican legislators with our lobbyist, Mary Panzer, to find solutions. Although there is some degree of necessary confidentiality, I can assure you we had important and direct influence on these bills.
We have asked Wisconsin Legislative Council to provide a summary of legislative activity from this Legislative Session. We will post it on our web site, wisconsinshoreland.org, and forward it to all of you when we receive it sometime in April, so that you can see how these bills affect our interests. These documents will provide a summary of the law prior to the budget, the language that was included in Act 55 and the subsequent legislation passed since Act 55 was signed in to law in July. We will use this summary to seek input from Wisconsin’s riparian lake owners that will be used to write legislation over the summer, well in advance of the next legislative session. We have already begun the process of enlisting partners to work with us to advance the legislation necessary to protect and enhance Wisconsin’s most important natural and economic resource: our lakes and shorelands.
There is one bill, however, that needs to be highlighted. SB 459/AB600 had some of the most egregious propositions for our lakes in recent history. It was sent back and forth between houses and finally was amended by the Senate, which produced, in essence, a new bill and removed the portions we found most damaging. This included the ability for everyriparian to dredge three to ten dump truck loads of lake bottom every year in front of their property WITHOUT AN INDIVIDUAL PERMIT and the provision that allowed vehicles (including ATV’s) to operate in the shallows without permit. It was our catch on the foggy ATV language and I know we had influence on the dredging issue.
Thank You to Senator Rob Cowles
Please take a moment to thank Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), who Chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, for his hard work and diligence to remove the most objectionable parts of SB 459. WSI worked closely with him to remove the provisions related to dredging, the use of motorized vehicles in lakebeds and preserving our Public Trust Doctrine. Senator Cowles’ email is: Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov.
We are very lucky to have had such outstanding professional help over the last six months. Both Bill and Mary are held in very high regard in our State Capitol. Mary’s relationships stemming from her service as Republican Senate Majority Leader and the respect in which she is held in the Senate were clearly evident. These genuine friendships were a determining factor in how this legislation progressed and was modified.
I really think, for a fledgling organization, we worked our way up the learning curve quickly. With Bill and I providing testimony and Mary taking our information inside to legislators to make sure they had the important information, we did make a difference. I am very proud of all of us in WSI and of our joint effort; the members of our lake associations, our leaders from our lake committees and member groups – and, our base of support; our legislative committee from Plum Lake who has managed this effort. We are now joining with other lake and water groups and other new partners to prepare ourselves for the next, and hopefully last, task in this sorry episode, recovering our lake classifications and our ability to individually protect our lakes and shorelands according to their needs as we have done so successfully over the last 20 years. Most importantly, we will seek to return local control and regulation of our shorelands to our local units of government.
We did not ask for this fight and as small lake associations, we were quite ill prepared to take it on. Yet, we have the most to lose if we do nothing. And, we have the most to gain if we stay banded together. Because we worked together, we brought a unique organization and talents to Madison and, as we unite with other statewide groups, I believe we will present an undeniable force next term to correct the harmful Act 55 budget amendment. And most importantly, we elevate our Wisconsin lakes and shorelands to their rightful position as Wisconsin’s greatest asset, deserving of stewardship, protection and preservation for future generations.
One last thought. This fight is not over. We can expect more “creative” legislation in the next session from the same people. Whatever they did not get this time will probably come back in new bills, with even more “creative” notions for remaking our lakes, rivers and shorelands. I am sure I have said the following a million times but here it comes again….we are the last line of defense for our lakes. We simply cannot quit now.
Again, thank you for your partnership and support!
WISCONSIN SHORELAND INITIATIVE
A. John Richter
Wisconsin Shoreland Initiative