Lakes Forum Resolves to Return Control of Shoreland Zoning to County

The following is a press item regarding BCLF’s Oct 10 Annual Meeting in Drummond.

At last week’s 2015 annual meeting, the Bayfield County Lakes Forum (BCLF) passed a resolution stipulating that authority of shoreland zoning be returned to Bayfield County. The resolution came in response to a provision of the Wisconsin 2016 – 2017 budget bill that took local control of shoreland zoning regulation away from Wisconsin counties.

By unanimous voice vote, the Forum also passed a motion to fully support a similar resolution recently passed by the Bayfield County Board of Supervisors. BCLF has partnered with the Plum Lake Association in Vilas County to bring legislation forward to return local shoreland zoning authority to our counties.

State Representative Beth Meyers attended the Forum’s annual meeting, offering insight into the process that will soon take place in Madison when the Plum Lake Association, BCLF, and other partners seek return of shoreland zoning control to counties. Representative Meyers and State Senator Janet Bewley have prepared a bill addressing this issue. It is now being circulated and is expected to win bipartisan legislative support.

“The Lakes Forum is a group of citizen volunteers who work to protect and preserve all Bayfield County lakes and streams for everyone,” said outgoing BCLF president, James Brakken. “The Forum represents over twenty lake associations, one lake district, and all our small lakes and streams.

“The deliberate removal of local control of our county’s shoreland zoning efforts threatens all surface waters. When the governor approved the budget bill in August, he revoked the guarantee given to our counties by the state during the last rewrite of NR 115, Wisconsin’s shoreland zoning rules. At that time, our counties were told they would forever have the authority to establish shoreland zoning rules stronger than the state’s and based on the vulnerability of lakes. This summer, in the name of property rights, Wisconsin Assembly District 28 Representative Adam Jarchow (R – Balsam Lake) used the Wisconsin budget bill process to deny our counties the ability to establish adequate lake and stream protection. Consequently, our northern counties’ efforts to protect our waters were set back thirty years,” said Brakken.

In many northern counties including Bayfield, the minimum waterfront frontage requirement for shoreland lots is 150 feet for large lakes, 200 feet for lakes determined to be at risk of degradation by overdevelopment, and 300 feet for the most vulnerable, small lakes. The signing of the 2016 – 2017 budget bill could reduce the minimum frontage requirement to 100 feet on all Wisconsin lakes. Setbacks and other zoning regulations were also affected.

“The Wisconsin Public Trust Doctrine guarantees that our lakes and streams are owned by the public,” Brakken continued. “Waterfront development must be balanced in the interest of all who use our lakes and streams. In a case known as Hixton v Public Service, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared this public right includes the aesthetic qualities of our surface waters. Accordingly, no individual has the right to degrade our waters or diminish the public’s enjoyment of them. That’s the law. The right of the public to enjoy clean, safe, healthy waters trumps the right of an individual to use them for personal gain, especially when done at the risk of the well-being of our water resources. Creating thousands of 100-foot lots along our shores could devastate our lakes and streams,” Brakken said.

In other annual meeting business, the Lakes Forum elected five new directors, earmarked $400 to support the Plum Lake Association in the effort to return local control of shoreland zoning regulation to our counties, and called on the Bayfield County Board to enact a moratorium on the issuing of permits affected by the recent Wisconsin budget bill action.

Updates on BCLF’s efforts to reinstate local shoreland zoning authority, suggestions on how to help in this effort, and contact information for Wisconsin legislators will be posted on the Lakes Forum’s website,