Saturday, February 9, 2008

2008 General Permit for Dock Platforms Issued

I thought it might be helpful to provide some additional background for lakeshore property owners and other interested parties who are just becoming aware of the newest DNR regulations and P.O.P.U.L.A.R.'s efforts to curtail their impact.

On January 23, 2008, the DNR, in theory responding to the recommendations of the Dock Advisory Committee it established to study the issue of dock platforms on Minnesota lakes and to advise the DNR on how to address the proliferation of structures that technically violated the 2002 regulations on dock size, issued a new general permit addressing the issue. The general permit applies to dock structures on lakes with General or Recreational Shoreline Development classifications.

Any dock platform on such a lake that does not exceed the dimensions in the new general permit (and complies with other standard conditions such as not interfering with navigation) can be installed without a permit. All other dock platforms that exceed 8 feet of width need a special permit.

The 2008 general permit sets forth a number of conditions, including recommending adherence to the concept of an "Aquatic Impact Area", within which any impact on the public waters by a lakeshore owner is to be limited to an area equal to the lesser of 50 feet or 1/2 the length of shoreline owned wide out to 4 feet of depth. At this point, adherence to the guidelines of the Aqauatic Impact Area is NOT mandated, merely suggested.

At the end of last month, P.O.P.U.L.A.R. distributed a lengthy memo discussing the 2008 permit and my meeting with Tom Hovey at DNR to discuss the same, as well as an executive summary. These documents are posted below for review and easier access and distribution.

Crow Wing County residents should be aware that County Attorney Don Ryan has been asked by a number of P.O.P.U.L.A.R. members if he intends to prosecute violations of DNR dock size regulations when cited by the DNR. Mr. Ryan's response is that his office is formulating its position and will be meeting with the DNR. The fact that the office is unable to merely acknowledge that it will assist in enforcing the new law by prosecuting violators gives some sense of how overwhelmed the office anticipates being if enforcement is pursued and, hopefully, a recognition that there are higher priority issues that it should address with its limited resources. We'll keep you posted on developments with that office.

Also, on Thursday of this week, I met with Josh Gackel, the Pawlenty Administration's policy advisor on DNR issues, to discuss our concerns. Mr. Gackel indicated that the governor is well aware of the level of concern in the community over the new DNR regulations. He agreed with me that this is a non-partisan issue, affecting Minnesotans across the board regardless of political persuasion. Discussions are continuing and I'll post more information as anything more concrete develops. Legislative leaders I spoke to believe that our attention should first be directed to the DNR but were open to further discussion in the event that legislation was introduced impacting our position.

We are working on a form of correspondence that P.O.P.U.L.A.R. members can use to express their concern over incremental DNR encroachment on the use and enjoyment of their lake property. We believe the impact of the volume of correspondence we hope to generate will negate the fact that the communications will be similar in substance. Please be sure to send the address of this blog ( to everyone you know who is concerned about these issues and may not as yet be receiving P.O.P.U.L.A.R. materials. Additional members from lake areas north of Gull and Whitefish would be helpful in order to show statewide support for our efforts.

Thanks again to everyone who has communicated with their representatives and with the governor's office and, in advance, to all who will.


Here are copies of the correspondence circulated from P.O.P.U.L.A.R. on January 28, 2008:

Executive Summary
Accompanying this executive summary memorandum you will find a rather lengthy letter describing the January 23, 2008 General Permit issued by the DNR (No. 2008-0401), an overview of my January 24th meeting with the DNR’s Tom Hovey and a call to action. I urge you to read the correspondence in its entirety, along with the General Permit itself.
In the meantime, please consider this memo a shorthand version of the information in the January 23rd correspondence for those of you in need of a quick read.
1. The General Permit allows dock platforms of no more than 120 square feet, not counting the last dock section extension. It applies only on lakes with General or Recreational Development shoreland lake classifications. Property owners on lakes otherwise classified will need to obtain a separate permit from the DNR if their dock/platform exceeds 8 feet in any dimension.
2. The General Permit replaces last year’s permit that allowed dock platforms of up to 170 square feet and is in response to the recommendations of the DNR’s Dock Advisory Committee. The 120 square foot limit represents the lowest end of the recommendations.
3. The General Permit includes a number of conditions on permittees if they rely on the General Permit to install a platform wider than 8 feet. These include granting the DNR access inspect the dock/platform and establishing an “Aquatic Impact Area” intended to minimize the shoreline property owner’s impact on the lake.
4. The “Aquatic Impact Area” is, in and of itself, merely a suggestion and not a mandate. However, Condition 11, in which it appears, does mandate that “docks and dock platforms shall be the minimum size necessary to meet the water related needs of the permittee.” There is no assurance that future rulemaking will not mandate the imposition of the Aquatic Impact Area. There is some concern that DNR may use the minimum size language to cite property owners with larger than “necessary” dock structures.
5. DNR will require permits for any non-conforming dock structure for property owners who can demonstrate a need and/or other justification. However, DNR is unable to provide assurance that permits will be available in any greater quantity that they were previously.
6. DNR will be stepping up enforcement of dock regulations but cannot adequately regulate all properties. DNR acknowledges that its past failure to enforce regulations has led to a situation where property owners invested in dock structures that were technically non-conforming but were ignored and used without incident for years. Enforcement will take the form of cease & desist orders, tickets and/or warnings.
7. DNR expects legislation to be introduced to modify the General Permit by both sides of the regulatory issue. DNR does not have current plans, absent a legislative directive, to engage in future rulemaking.
8. P.O.P.U.L.A.R. will continue to organize opponents of the regulations and seeks sympathetic legislators to assist in controlling DNR’s attempt at regulatory expansion. Please read the Call to Action at the end of the January 28, 2008 letter to learn how to help!

January 28, 2008 Letter to P.O.P.U.L.A.R. Members

Dear P.O.P.U.L.A.R. Supporters and Other Interested Parties:

I am writing to update you on developments in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources efforts to control dock and dock platform sizes and to “protect Minnesota’s shorelines” and assure “minimal impact on public waters”.

On Wednesday, January 23rd, the DNR issued General Permit 2008-0401 (the “General Permit”), which replaces last year’s permit addressing dock platform sizes and sets the standard until “November 30, 2012 or when new regulations regarding structures in public waters take effect.” The General Permit was issued in response to the work of DNR’s dock advisory committee (the “Committee”), including public comments assembled by the Committee, and recommendations from the Committee.

Everyone on P.O.P.U.L.A.R.’s e-mail list received a copy of the General Permit and DNR Waters Director Kent Lokkesmoe’s accompanying correspondence on January 23rd. Hopefully, you have had a chance to read it. If you haven’t, please do. Here are the salient points.

• The General Permit is designed to provide exceptions to existing DNR regulations governing dock/dock platform sizes that limit the width of any dock to 8 feet.

• The General Permit applies only to lakes with General Development or Recreational Development shoreland classification. If you live on a lake otherwise classified, you need to obtain a separate permit from the DNR to install a dock/dock platform wider than 8 feet in any direction. Shoreland lake classification information can be found on the Web at

• The General Permit allows installation of a dock platform that is no more than 120 square feet, exclusive of the access dock, or no more than 170 square feet, including the access dock, which cannot be wider than 5 feet. Effectively, if you are using 5x10 foot dock sections to create the platform and relying on the General Permit, the platform can only be 10x10, or 100 square feet exclusive of the access dock, because a platform encompassing 3 5x10 sections would amount to 150 square feet, 30 more than allowed under the General Permit. To get to the fully allowed 170 square feet, you would need to use 3 4x10 sections (120 square feet) plus a 5x10 access dock.

• The General Permit adopts the concept of an Aquatic Impact Area as a condition of the General Permit, intended to give guidance, but not mandate, the manner in which a shoreline owner’s impact on the lake can be minimized. Condition 11 reads as follows:
"Docks and dock platforms shall be the minimum size necessary to meet the water related needs of the permittee. Docks generally should not extend to water depths greater than 4 feet. Typically, all structures and shoreline modifications (including docks, platforms, boat lifts, canopies, sand blankets, and aquatic plant removal) should be completely contained in an Aquatic Impact Area, defined for this general permit, as an area up to 50 feet wide along the shoreline or one-half the width of the lot, whichever is less, and extends waterward to a 4’ water depth so that lateral and lakeward encroachment into a Public Water is only necessary to achieve water-oriented recreational needs. The structures must not obstruct navigation." (emphasis added to illustrate items that are mandated as opposed to suggested under the General Permit)

• The General Permit conditions its use on the agreement by the permittee to “grant access to the site at all reasonable times during and after construction to authorized representatives of the Commissioner of Natural Resources for inspection of the work authorized” under the General Permit.

• The County Board of a Lake Conservation District may adopt a resolution prohibiting application of the General Permit in the District. Information regarding Districts that adopt such resolutions will be available at Without the ability of the General Permit in a particular Lake Conservation District, shoreline owners could find themselves faced with having to abide by existing DNR regulations and the 8-foot width limitation.

• Again, please read the terms and conditions of the General Permit in their entirety. If you did not receive a copy from P.O.P.U.L.A.R., you can read a copy at It’s the first link under the “New Information Concerning Docks” section.

Meeting with the DNR
As luck would have it, prior to the issuance of the General Permit, I had scheduled a meeting with Tom Hovey for Thursday, January 24th. Mr. Hovey is the DNR employee who headed up the work of the Dock Advisory Committee. The plan was to meet, address some concerns that Mr. Hovey had expressed about the accuracy of previous P.O.P.U.L.A.R. communications and, from our point of view, let him and the DNR know how passionate P.O.P.U.L.A.R. was about the need for reasonableness in DNR regulations. With the issuance of the General Permit, we had additional items to address during our two-hour meeting.

The wide range of issues Mr. Hovey and I discussed during our meeting are summarized below.

Aquatic Impact Area
I asked Mr. Hovey how DNR could impose the requirement for an aquatic impact area (“AIA”) without going through formal rulemaking. Mr. Hovey pointed out that because the language is advisory, “should” not “shall” establish the AIA, the DNR felt it was not necessary to engage in rulemaking. According to Mr. Hovey, the advisory on restricting impact to the AIA resulted from a desire by people on “both sides of the issue” to minimize the impact of development on the lakes. Apparently, there was considerable discussion during the Dock Advisory Committee meetings that merely addressing dock platform sizes would not provide adequate protection to the aquatic environment without restrictions on docks, boatlifts, canopies, boats, etc. Including the suggestion to establish an AIA was an effort to address those concerns. The 50-foot maximum length was intended to mirror existing sand blanket regulations.

Mr. Hovey acknowledged that the DNR could decide to make the AIA mandatory but would have to go through the rulemaking process to do so. As noted below, he does not believe the DNR will engage in any new rulemaking in the next several years. In the meantime, the DNR cannot force shoreline owners to limit the AIA to the dimensions referred to in the General Permit.
Dock Platform Size
The General Permit does not change the regulations that had been in place since 2002. There is no permit needed if no dimension of a dock exceeds 8 feet. The General Permit allows dock platforms in excess of 8 feet wide up to the 120 square feet described above. A special permit will be needed from the DNR in order to be able to install a dock platform that exceeds 120 square feet in size.

A permit can be applied for in case of non-conforming use. Mr. Hovey believes, but cannot assure, that the DNR will be more open to issuing permits based on individual circumstances. He used welded docks that cannot be reconfigured as an example. Mr. Hovey also thought that property owners who wanted to continue to use a platform configuration that had been in place since before 1978, when regulations first went into place, should be able to get a special permit.

DNR’s enforcement division signed off on the General Permit. According to Mr. Hovey, more attention will be paid to enforcing existing regulations and compliance with the General Permit. Mr. Hovey acknowledged that the DNR’s lack of past enforcement contributed to the current situation in which shoreline property owners felt entitled to install non-conforming docks and platforms. While insisting that there will not be “dock cops”, enforcement will vary county by county, as some county attorneys have refused to prosecute dock size violations. Mr. Hovey expects enforcement to be in form of orders to cease & desist, tickets or warnings. However, the DNR’s limited resources preclude strict enforcement. Mr. Hovey felt that the DNR would start by first citing the most “egregious” offenders with the largest dock platforms.

Need for Regulation/Grandfathering
Although there has not been significant enforcement in the past of the DNR’s regulations regarding impact on the public waters by shoreline property owners, Mr. Hovey believes the growth in the size of boats, docks and population mandates regulation now to protect the future status of lakes. Lakes are becoming more cluttered giving rise to circus like appearance with proliferation of dock slipcovers. Mr. Hovey acknowledged that there is no scientific evidence that any particular structure negatively impacts the aquatic environment or the health of a lake. However, the DNR is concerned that the cumulative effect of all structures must, as a matter of logic, contribute to the declining health of the lake.

This led to a discussion of grandfathering in existing structures since the concern for the future seemed to be about what might develop, not what exists per se. Mr. Hovey thought that allowing pre-1978 (i.e., pre-regulation) dock platforms to have a special permit makes sense. He entertained my suggestion that, possibly, there could be some changes to the General Permit to allow grandfathering where shoreline owners relied on non-enforcement (part of “plenty of blame to go around” scenario). This might serve as justification for a special permit. Stricter enforcement would be imposed on new structures.

Property Taxes
I told Mr. Hovey that it was disingenuous to deny that shoreline property owners were being taxed based on their perceived, by assessors, access to their lakeshore. Mr. Hovey argued initially that the mere access to public waters generates the higher tax assessment.
However, when I used the example of two identical homes properly set back on two lots with different lengths of shoreline but equal total square footage, he agreed that, everything else being equal, merely owning additional shoreline would result in higher property taxes. Accordingly, imposing identical limits on each property owner (e.g., a fifty food wide AIA), ought to result in a reduction in property taxes for the higher taxed property since the owner’s effective ability to access the public waters was being curtailed to the level of the parcel with less shoreline.

Tailoring Regulations
Mr. Hovey was clear that the State of Minnesota lacks the resources to regulate lakes individually and, therefore, cannot modify regulations based on the nature and use of each lake. He said, however, that the DNR might accept lake management plans developed from local lake associations (a lake improvement district) that proposed specific regulations for individual lakes. These could be used to modify restrictions based on the character of the individual lake.

Additional Rulemaking
As noted above, Mr. Hovey doesn’t anticipate rulemaking this year. He said that the DNR is tied up with Wild & Scenic River and Shoreline Management regulations. Information on these rulemaking procedures are on the DNR’s website. According to Mr. Hovey, the DNR’s limited resources preclude engaging in additional rulemaking at this time. Mr. Hovey also expressed his opinion that P.O.P.U.L.A.R.’s concern about the adoption of highly restrictive regulations is misguided. He believes, for example, that it would not be possible to regulate the number of watercraft a shoreline owner was allowed to keep on his or her property. However, he acknowledged that there are some proponents of significant additional restrictions and that he cannot say for sure to what extent they might be ultimately successful.

Mr. Hovey had heard that proponents and opponents of dock platform regulation had both planned to have legislation introduced in the next session to support their respective position. Legislation, if passed, would have the effect of directing the DNR to take one action or another. Accordingly, even though the DNR has no current plans to engage in new rulemaking on the dock platform or lake impact issues, pressure from the public and actions by the legislature, could change those plans.

Call to Action
In less than a month, P.O.P.U.L.A.R. has been able to raise shoreline owner’s awareness of the DNR’s intent to more vigorously regulate the use and enjoyment of the lakeshore. Moreover, the outcry from shoreline owners in the past month has been in marked contrast to the general silence that met the DNR’s announced study of dock platform and aquatic impact issues early in and throughout 2007.

We believe that there are reasonable compromises to be had between the DNR’s proposed limits on dock platform sizes, which may or may not lend themselves to the issuance of special permits, and regulations that address the individual needs of lakeshore property owners and take the historical use of lakefront property into consideration.

P.O.P.U.L.A.R. intends to identify sympathetic legislators who will work with us to draft legislation directing the DNR to modify its newly imposed restrictions and keep the DNR from imposing any additional restrictions, particularly as they might be applied to current shoreline property owners. In order to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the public’s concern on the issue, it is imperative that all P.O.P.U.L.A.R. members let their respective state senators and representatives know that this is an issue of concern to more than the “hundreds” who made their concerns known to the DNR prior to the issuance of the General Permit. By some accounts, there are more than 250,000 shoreline owners in Minnesota. Not many of them had been clamoring for an increase in the DNR’s regulations of the use and enjoyment of their respective lakeshore.

To be a part of this movement, P.O.P.U.L.A.R. needs you to:
• Send a copy of this correspondence to everyone you know who has an interest in limiting the DNR’s regulation of lakeshore. Make sure members of your lakeshore owners association are aware of the General Permit and determine the level of support for an effort to modify the General Permit so that it is less restrictive.

• Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Make the point that while some regulation might be justified, the vast majority of shoreline owners are better stewards of the lakes than the visiting public and have a vested interest in the ongoing health of the public waters on which their property lies. Point out that any attempts to portray the issue as one of class warfare does a disservice to the integrity of the majority of shoreline property owners whose interests in the property are often multi-generational.

• Contact your state senator and representative and ask them to support the work of P.O.P.U.L.A.R. and legislation that limits the DNR’s regulation of private property. If you don’t know who your legislator is, go to and click on the “Who Represents Me?” link.

• Keep P.O.P.U.L.A.R. informed of progress made with public officials and identify any legislators willing to work with P.O.P.U.L.A.R. to carry remedial legislation.

• Send copies of your letters on the issue to P.O.P.U.L.A.R. at or by facsimile to 763-201-7899.

• Watch for future communications from P.O.P.U.L.A.R. regarding
• the drafting of legislation supporting our position and be prepared to assist with testimony regarding your particular circumstances before the legislature,
• the circulation of petitions to clearly demonstrate the intensity of the opposition to the General Permit and to the enforcement of regulations beyond what is needed to maintain healthy public waters,
• organizational meetings to better focus our activities and identify goals to be pursued,
• the establishment of a political action committee to encourage public servants to respond to P.O.P.U.L.A.R.’s concerns, and
• other matters of interest to persons concerned about the DNR’s activities.

Thank you for your support. Please remember to take the time to read the General Permit and its conditions.
(end of January 28, 2008 correspondence)


Loghome said...

We want to say thank your for your efforts to keep us informed and for establishing POPULAR....
We will make every effort to keep friends and those we can reach at the lake informed. We agree it will be critical to have a broad base of support going into iceout this spring.
We are looking forward to putting our dock in and also to the response from the Crow Wing County attorney as it relates to prosecuting the DNR tickets.
Thanks Again.....
Bruce & Julie Larson / Whitefish

Anonymous said...


Bruce Larson just sent us an email and informed us of this matter which we were unaware of. An excellent organization which you may be aware of to align with is the MSPRO (Minnesota Seasonal Recreational Property Owners) We are currently a member of that group and they are very helpful. Recommend you contact Jeff Forester their Director.(952)854-1317

Anonymous said...