How big should a dock be?In recent years, docking issues have become a growing concern in the state, as outdated laws have failed to keep pace with the changes in the kinds of structures being put into Minnesota lakes.
By: Mike Enright, Alexandria Echo Press
Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and thousands more docks.
In recent years, docking issues have become a growing concern in the state, as outdated laws have failed to keep pace with the changes in the kinds of structures being put into Minnesota lakes.
“The rules regarding docks have pretty much stayed the same since the late ‘70s,” said Tom Hovey, public waters hydrologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “A lot has changed since then.”
“Structures are getting bigger and more numerous,” he said. “We are seeing now wider docks, larger platforms and longer docks.”
At the heart of the discussion are larger permanent docks and increasingly popular “party platforms,” which are expanded platforms that can be placed at the ends of docks.
Last January, the DNR legalized such platforms up to 120 square feet in size, issuing a temporary general permit while the agency mulls over changes to current docking policies.
Presently, the DNR is seeking comment from the public on the issue, Hovey said, and it plans to introduce new regulations in 2010.
Locally, recent events have caused both Douglas County and Alexandria Township to question whether their docking ordinances are up to snuff. Both are considering creating local docking statutes.
“At this point, we’re not planning on making any changes, other than the fact that an issue was brought to us about a permanent dock going in, and what are the rules and regulations,” said Roger Thalman, Alexandria Township chair.
“The gist of it is we didn’t have any to speak of,” he said. “We are just looking into it to see if it does pay to put something into effect on it or not.”
Dave Rush, director of Douglas County Land and Resource Management, said the county does have its own laws governing permanent docks, but defers to the DNR when it comes to the issue of party platforms.
Permanent docks are allowed, he said, but if damaged or destroyed can only be repaired or replaced one time. Then a seasonal dock must be used.
Rush said there are both benefits and drawbacks to permanent docks.
Unlike temporary docks, which have to be taken in and out every season, permanent docks don’t disturb sediment and vegetation near shore, he said.
But permanent docks are expensive, Rush said, and, because they stay out all winter, can be a safety hazard to snowmobilers if not properly marked.
If the moorings used to plant a permanent dock go too deep, that can also be a problem, Rush said.
“Any time you’re punching something into the ground, where people are getting their water from, people should be somewhat concerned about that,” he said. “We should all be paying attention.”
In general, though, Rush said most wells go down 180 to 200 feet, while most permanent dock moorings are 30 to 40 feet.
Rush said he’s heard very few complaints about either permanent docks or party platforms. That’s probably because there are still relatively few in the area.
The county gets one or two applications for permanent dock permits a year, he said, and he’s only heard about a few party platforms here and there.
Bonnie Huettl, coordinator for zoning and strategic planning with the Douglas County Lakes Assocation, said out of 367 docks, she has counted five platforms on her home lake of Lobster Lake.
The DCLA opposes party platforms, Huettl said, and it believes the county should take action to ban them.
“The purpose of a dock is to access water to a navigable level for your boat. That’s all it was ever designed for,” she said. “We have talked about party platforms, and we don’t see any value to them because they are much more than what docks are supposed to be.”
Rush said that because of their size, and the resulting shade they create, party platforms can be detrimental to lakes by limiting spawning and nutrient production, and also stealing habitat away from fish.
“The more stuff we put into the lake the more impact it’s going to have on the lake, whether it be temporary or permanent,” he said. “The least impact we can do out in that shallow water area, the better.”