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Mark surprises Belle Taine residents

Some property owners on Lake Belle Taine are stewing about a new ordinary high water level (OHWL) that's been set for the lake, raised 18 inches from the previous measurement.

But government officials say county commissioners' motives to establish the mark were not punitive.

Some lakes didn't have the marks set and the measurement is needed, said Environmental Services Administrator Eric Buitenwerf.

Commissioners issued the orders in April 2006, asking the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish the measurement on lakes countywide, but placing a priority on the Mantrap Chain.

DNR Regional Hydrologist Kirk English explained the OHWL is a surveying measurement. "It's not a public process."

The alternative is a visual determination. The surveyed measurement removes any subjectivity, Buitenwerf added. "It is a better way to avoid disputes."

John Larson, a Lake Belle Taine resident who'd advocated for a project to mitigate high water levels, said the initiative was "unnecessary."

The matter, he said, is addressed in the county's shoreland ordinance that states "the elevation to which the lowest floor (including basements and crawl spaces) is placed or flood-proofed must be at least 3 feet above the highest known water level (1429.9 feet, recorded in 2001) or 3 feet above the ordinary high water level, whichever is higher..."

The previous OHWL was 1426.7 feet above sea level; it was raised to 1428.3 feet.

Larson also objected to the process not being done publicly.

According to Buitenwerf, the established OHWL will help some and could hurt others, although existing septic systems and buildings will be grandfathered in.

The higher mark on some lakes will be a positive for those seeking permits to do shoreland protection work below the OHWL, Buitenwerf said.

The higher mark could make some 40,000-square-foot lots nonconforming, he said. It also could affect drainfield and structure setbacks for new systems and buildings.

No one with an existing drainfield or structure needs to be concerned because they are grandfathered in, Buitenwerf said. The exception would be if a property owner wants to add on. Then if the higher OHWL has made the system or structure nonconforming, they would have to change their plans or request a variance.

The OHWL was raised three inches (from 1427.9 to 1428.3) on three lakes: Little Sand, Ida and Big Sand.

So the measurement is now the same on these lakes as it is on Belle Taine. They couldn't be lower than Belle Taine, English said, explaining Belle Taine's OHWL was set first and the measurement was used for all the rest in the Mantrap Chain.

The OHWL also was established on four lakes where there was none before: Shallow, Deer, Clausens and Round Lake.

Buitenwerf said the record high water levels on Belle Taine in 2001 had nothing to do with the commissioners' request. The board was making ordinance amendments and wanted a fixed point, he said.