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Pequot Lakes meeting to look at dock rules

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As the state prepares to issue new rules on dock sizes on Minnesota public waters, one more opportunity for public input is slated for this week.

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The state Department of Natural Resources decided earlier this year to study dock sizes when it became apparent that many docks -- especially on well-developed lakes -- were exceeding state law.

The DNR, wanting to get a handle on excessive docks, issued a temporary general permit last spring that temporarily authorizes dock platforms up to 10.5 feet by 16 feet, or 170 square feet. That permit expires Nov, 30, with the DNR planning to issue a general permit for a five-year period later this year.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, was able to pass legislation in the 2007 session that also required the DNR to hold at least two public meetings in the north-central lakes area to inform the public and to gather public input on the conditions and rules for permitting mooring facilities and docks.

Those were held in August, and a public comment period ended Oct. 1, but Howes said last week that too much uncertainty remains and he's asked for a town meeting this week to include dock manufacturers, property rights advocates and environmental experts.

The meeting is 7-9 p.m. Wednesday at Pequot Lakes Senior High School.

"I like what the DNR is doing," Howes said of the agency now, adding that last spring he received more than 100 e-mails about the issue, mostly from residents of the Whitefish chain and East Gull Lake. "The DNR was coming out and giving them tickets, saying they had to take their dock out of the water."

State law in 2002 set an allowable dock width of eight feet without a permit, which was looser than previous law that limited docks to four- or six-feet wide. But docks can be of any length, say even 200 feet, in order to reach the depth of water necessary for boat docking. Normally, docks are 20 to 30 feet in length.

For some reason, enforcement was lax on those rules until this year when the DNR started issuing tickets for what some call "party platforms."

"They decided to allow people to get a permit that didn't cost them anything to keep the size dock that they had, but it couldn't be over 10½ feet by 16 feet, or 170 square feet," Howes said of the 2007 temporary general permit issued in April.

Still, people didn't seek permits for one reason or another, he said.

The DNR now has the task of recommending conditions for a new five-year general permit, which Howes expects about Dec. 1.

"I haven't heard anything from the dock manufacturers, which will have a huge financial impact if we make a big change," Howes said of wanting the town hall forum. "We've got a lot of dock people up here who sell docks. And there's a big manufacturer in Fergus Falls."

Three or four different dock companies are expected at the town hall meeting, as well as sales representatives, he said. "They'll give what they feel might be a good plan."

Howes said he attended an August hearing at Nisswa and "heard horror stories from both sides -- I heard that we have no business telling what kind of a dock, that they own the property. ... Well, people don't own the lake, they always forget that."

This time, he wants public input and not a DNR lecture, Howes said. "Most people now know they're trying to come up with a plan, and let's hear from people now that they've thought about it for a while."

But DNR officials will be available with information on limits on dock sizes, permit requirements, and the potential for rules on boat lifts and weed-control equipment, he said. The meeting will also include House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, House Minority Whip Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, and the GOP lead nember of the House Public Safety Committee, Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound.

"What people are overlooking is the fact that there are no restrictions on how many boat lifts you can have," Howes said. "You could live on Lake Bemidji and have six boat lifts out front, forget the size of the dock."

Some are 10-feet by 24-feet and take up space, he said, adding that perhaps boat lifts should also be part of the rules discussion. "But if we're talking about boat lifts and the size of docks, what's the next step -- the size of the boat?"

While the formal public comment period has closed, Howes said information from Wednesday's meeting, especially from dock manufacturers, will be important when the DNR does issues its recommendations.

"I want to know beforehand what people want, so if the DNR comes up with a plan that over 50 percent of my people don't like, I'm going to have to fight it," Howes said.

Howes, however, believes that because of the controversy this summer, it may just extend the conditions of the temporary general permit for five years.

"You'd have to get a permit if you want a 10½ (feet) by 16 (feet) platform out there," Howes predicts. "You can't have a bathroom out there, you can't have bed and breakfast. You have to use common sense."

Meanwhile, the DNR would continue to study the issue, Howes hopes, considering both dock sizes and boat lifts.

Howes said he wanted the meeting in Pequot Lakes, which is in his House 4B district but not his home county or city.

"I've got more lakes than anybody else," he said. "So why not be in my district? That's where most of the docks are, where most of the pressure's coming from. It sounded like a good idea, so we'll find out what people think."

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