Thursday, June 5, 2008

DNR Open House Report

Hello, all. I received the following thorough memo from a POPULAR member who attended Tuesday's open house hosted by the DNR to discuss shoreline management regulations.

Please review the information and consider attending an open house near you. The schedule is linked from the blog posted last month or available on the DNR web site. Let's continue to make our concern about DNR over-regulation known and at the forefront of their considerations.

Here's the memo. The author requested that his name not be used. His work is greatly appreciated.

MEMORANDUM

Date: June 4, 2008
To: Samuel L. Stern. General Counsel, P.O.P.U.L.A.R.
From: (P.O.P.U.L.A.R. member)
Re: Summary of Observations during Attendance at June 3, 2008 DNR Open House for the Shoreland Rules Update Project At Minnetonka Community Center

I attended the DNR Open House for Shoreland Rules Update Project scheduled at the Minnetonka Community Center from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. on June 3, 2008.

The following observations are passed along for your information.

The handout sheet provided by the DNR upon entering the meeting room indicates:

SHORELAND RULES OPEN HOUSE
MINNETONKA

Shoreland Rules Update

* Shoreland Rules Update - Learn about the process that will be used to develop draft rule revisions, what the existing rules cover, and what are some potential areas that could be addressed in rule revision.

* Local Governments – Staff from various local governments in the area are available to discuss how local shoreland ordinance implement the shoreland rules.

* Provide input on areas that you think should be addressed as part of the rules update project.

Other Shoreland Related Projects and Efforts

1. Shoreland Stewardship – Individual shoreland management techniques that protect water quality, habitat, and shoreland ecology.
2. MN Pollution Control Agency – Impaired waters and total maximum daily load activities to support the Clean Water Legacy.
3. Minnehaha Creek Watershed District – Blue Thumb; planting for clean water program.
4. Minnetonka Natural Resources – Water Quality Education
5. MN Pollution Control Agency – Low impact development methods for controlling stormwater.
6. Wright Soil & Water Conservation District – Water quality in Wright County.
7. Other DNR Programs – Docks, fisheries, shoreland restoration, and aquatic plant management.
8. University of Minnesota – Erosion Control Program

My general impression is that the DNR is holding these Open House meetings simply to be able to say they have sought public input and comment. The DNR does not, however, seem really interested in gathering public opinions at these meetings in a truly meaningful way that would be quantifiable.

The meeting room was set up similar to a variety of other information fairs with different zones of information around the perimeter of the room. DNR representatives were on hand and mingling with individuals or small groups of attendees to answer questions.

There was a posterboard on an easel with a listing of topics like “stormwater runoff”, “setbacks”, “docks”, “surface water use”, and a number of other terms on it. The attendees were asked to take a strip of four adhesive-backed red dots and place the red dots by the topics that they thought should be addressed in the new shoreland regulations. This method merely gave a visual indication of what topics should be reviewed in making the new rules. This procedure, unfortunately, did not give the attendees a way to indicate what their individual position was on any of the particular issues that might be affected by the rulemaking.

There was a separate easel with a sheet of paper on it immediately adjacent to the easel with the DNR listed topics. The blank page of paper was used for attendees to write in previously unlisted topics for consideration. When I arrived someone had already written something along the lines of “Individual rights of owners regarding the use of their own property”. This statement had a large number of red dots by it.

I wrote in an additional comment on the sheet stating “Regulatory taking of Riparian Property Owner Rights”. It may not be that the rules that are ultimately developed rise to the level of a regulatory taking that is compensable to the riparian owner, however, I did attempt to make the point with a couple of the DNR officials whom I spoke with that some of the new restrictions under consideration sure seem like a “taking” of benefits we have enjoyed and/or had decision making control over for decades or generations.

The Open House is not conducted in a format where there are speakers to the entire assembly or questions put to the DNR officials in an open assembly format for all attendees to hear at once. Instead, the format is done in a one-on-one or small group question and answer format. During the meeting I had separate conversations with Paul Radominski, a research scientist from the DNR office in Brainerd, and Tom Hovey, the Public Waters Permits Program Coordinator of the DNR. Tom Hovey was the individual everyone was directed to for questions about the dock regulations.

Some of the input and concerns I attempted to convey in discussions with DNR officials included the following:

Is there really a widespread problem that needs addressing by new shoreland regulations? I expressed a preference for keeping government regulation to a minimum and also encouraged reasonableness based upon scientific fact rather than conjecture about impacts. Riparian owners are predominantly excellent stewards of the resources because of their vested interests in their own property as well as the public water which abuts it. It would be much preferred for the DNR to promote voluntary compliance with certain recommended “best practices” or “recommended practices” by virtue of education of the public as to the benefits that could be achieved by such practices rather than the by virtue of the imposition of legal regulations which the DNR seems inadequately prepared to enforce.

As regards the dock matter in particular I inquired of Tom Hovey as to whether he could give examples of any types of circumstances under which the DNR has actually granted a special permit for dock platforms greater than the 120 square foot platform measured separately from the access dock or 170 square foot area including the access as allowed under the DNR’s General Permit No. 2008-0401. I mentioned I had heard of several applications being submitted, including an applicant with a handicapped member in their family; however, I have not heard of any special permit requests being granted. Tom Hovey indicated that some permit applications had been withdrawn after the DNR representatives visited with the applicants about alternative ways to lay out their docks in a manner which would not require a special permit. He did indicate that if the same oversized dock layout has been used by a special permit applicant for an extended period of years that factor should noted in the application; however, he did not indicate that having what some people refer to as a “legacy dock” alone would result in a permit being issued either. Neither did he indicate that anyone had been granted a special permit.

When Tom Hovey was asked directly about whether the DNR would be enforcing violations of the General Permit this season he . . . indicated that the more likely situation would involve one in which a neighbor made a complaint (even if anonymously made) against another neighbor about an oversized dock. Mr. Hovey indicated that in that situation the result would initially be the delivery of an information packet about the dock regulations to the offending neighbor.

There was an abundant supply of printed literature on a variety of topics available for attendees to select at the Open House. Most of the literature appeared duplicative of the information available online at the DNR website.

In addition to the shoreland rules information there were also a number of other informational stations relating to the topics listed under the “Other Shoreland Related Projects and Efforts” section of the handout page referenced above.

In conclusion, if the DNR really wanted to learn where attendees at these Open Houses stand on the issues it would be possible to use any number of other commonly used techniques to gather and quantify citizen input by using written questionnaires or surveys. Do not expect the regulatory result to be based on majority or consensus views of the public. It seems clear the new draft shoreland rules that are due out about this time next year (May 2009) will reflect the DNR’s own positions rather than any democratically polled desires on John Q. Public on the subject. If you seek to provide meaningful input to the DNR it was suggested that you try to get someone on an Advisory Committee.

N.B. P.O.P.U.L.A.R. has started the process for being included on any advisory committee established in connection with forthcoming rulemaking on private structures in public waters (e.g., docks, boatlifts, canopies, platforms).

Please read the comment received in response to the e-mailed version of this blog. It is imperative that P.O.P.U.L.A.R. members show up in numbers that will make it clear to the D.N.R. and the administration that regulations infringing on lakeshore owners' rights will not be quietly accepted.

3 comments:

Sam Stern said...

Sam,

I also attended the DNR Open House the other night and was very surprised by the absence of an open forum for airing people's concerns about docks or any other issues. The POPULAR member's account below is very accurate.

However, I did find a sheet that allowed written feedback regarding any current or proposed regulation. I wrote my comments on it and placed it in the collection box. There seemed to be about 5 other sheets that had been filled out.

I am very concerned that these new shore land regulations will be forced down our throats with out real or seriously considered feedback from anyone who shares POPULAR's views. I did articulate in my written comments my concerns about these shore land regulations being determined based on political rather than scientific principles. I also suggested that should new onerous lakeshore regulations go into effect, lakeshore owners will be demanding adjustments to their property tax amounts as relief for restricted use of their lake shore.

Unfortunately, given the left leaning political environment we have in St. Paul these days, I have little hope for preservation of private riparian property rights as they exist today. However I do hope POPLULAR's efforts can provide some relief.

Thank you for your efforts,

JH
Minnetonka, MN

BP said...

Thank you for the update and information provided by this gentleman. I also attended the "Open House" and concur with the comments made. In addition I'll pass along a few additional comments.

1. Regarding the open house format - I felt like I was at a county fair with each DNR group booth set up to give me literature pertaining to their specific area of responsibility. I was told when I came in that the set-up was intended for us to provide "input" to the DNR representatives regarding the Shoreland Rules Update and what specifically we would like included or excluded. I visited every booth and provided some very specific input regarding my views on what should or should not be included, but not one DNR representative took a note or wrote anything down. It seems to me they missed or purposely avoided the opportunity to collect input from those that took the time to attend the open house.

2. I tracked down one DNR official who I was told was one of the event organizer and asked why, as a lakeshore owner with two DNR weed treatment permits, I was getting no communication directly from the DNR seeking my input; no communications regarding the open house schedule; and no communication regarding shoreline use or regulation changes that would directly impact my property. I was told by this individual that they hadn't thought about sending anything specific to those with permits and that lake weed control permits were handled by another area of the DNR not the "Shoreland Rules Update Project" group. This is obviously very disappointing and thank goodness for groups like P.O.P.U.L.A.R. and Minnesotans for Healthy Lakes for keeping us informed and helping us fight the fight.

3. I also spoke with Tom Hovey at length about dock requirements and he effectively agreed that there was no scientific reason for restricting end platform structures to a size of 170 SF. In fact, in conversations with attendess he suggested how they could make slight adjustments in their configuration to get around the regulation without actually reducing the overall size of the collective dock. He also suggested that the DNR should be concerned not only with dockend platform sizes, but also boat lifts, canopies and anything man made that covered lake waters.

4. We have a severe curly leaf pondweed problem in our lake and I was told by a DNR representative that control of invasive weeds species in our lake was not within the scope of the Shoreland Rules Update Project Group and that invasive weed control was handled by another DNR group and that there was in fact no collective or holistic DNR approach to helping lakeshore owners manage their lakes or lakeshore.

My conclusion after attending the DNR open house is that,

1. The DNR will do whatever they want and these open houses are merely a way for them to say they went through the motion of seeking input.

2. The DNR is not a "Help" agency it is an "Enforcement" agency.

3. Lakeshore owners are at great risk if we allow the DNR to continue to do what they want without scientific reasoning for the rules and regulations they will no doubt impose.

Be afraid - be very afraid.

MCG said...

Dear Mr. Stern:

Regarding your email of 06-05-08, my comments are as follows:
I had a major difference of opinion with the Wisconsin DNR which started in 1996 and ended early 2007. It had to do with obtaining a building permit from the City of Prescott to build a house on property I own which consists of a lot on the east side of Lake Street and an outlot on the St. Croix River. While the City of Prescott had agreed after several months to issue a permit to build, at what was to be the final council meeting on this issue, the regional representative of the Wisconsin DNR objected to Prescott issuing the permit and that’s when the fireworks began. I had my attorney file lawsuits against the City of Prescott, the Wisconsin DNR as well as numerous other people who were involved. At first, I was all alone but as time went on, more and more people who had negative reviews of what the Wisconsin DNR was doing started to come to meetings. The last meeting I attended there were fifty-two people present. The DNR backed up all over the place. They even discharged Eunice Post, regional director for DNR for the area. I was granted a permit, which I no longer wanted or needed.

My message to you, as well as those folks who distrust the Minnesota DNR as I do, is this: Set up a meeting of as many people as possible in a central location, invite a DNR “official” as high up the ladder as possible and at this meeting make crystal clear to all attendees as well as the representative of the DNR that there will not be any new regulations regarding docks, boatlifts, etc. on any lake in Minnesota. Send a clear message to all that none of us need government workers to tell us how we should place our lake equipment nor to tell us we can have only so much equipment in the water in front of our private lake property for which we are already over taxed just to live there. My real estate tax on my lake home is at $800.00 plus per month.

I spent $48,000.00 on my Wisconsin DNR experience. The City of Prescott wrote me a check for $50,000.00 to settle my lawsuit against the City.

I’d be only to happy to attend any meetings you may set up with the Minnesota DNR, provided I am in Minnesota at the time.