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Waterfront Pier-Placement Rights Restored After Evers Signs ‘Protect Our Piers’ Bill

Mike Spranger

People living on flowages in Wisconsin once again have a legal right to extend a pier from their property.

That protection had disappeared after a 2018 case before the state Supreme Court. In that case, the Court revoked the right in a case involving a Price County family.

Unlike for natural lakes, flowage beds are privately owned, and the Court said the owners could block the erection of piers.

That led to changes for waterfront owners.

“It happened in various places throughout the state where the bed owner approached the waterfront property owners and told them that they either had to remove their pier or pay a certain amount of money to keep it in in place. It was happening,” said Tom Larson of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which lobbied to reverse the Court ruling.

A 2019 bill to reverse the ruling died before passage.

But last month, Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill guaranteeing the right for waterfront owners to place a pier, no matter who owns the bed underneath.

“What it does is it restores the riparian rights that existed prior to the court case,” Larson said. “It treats all waterfront property owners the same, whether you live on a flowage or a natural lake.”

Under the previous Court ruling, waterfront owners risked a devalued property with pier rights blocked.

“If they’re told that they can’t access the waterway, that they can’t place a pier, it has a significant impact on the value of their property and also the use and enjoyment of that property,” Larson said.

Waterfront owners still can’t place a pier if restricted by their deed.

But most deeds are silent on that topic.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He then contributed with periodic stories until 2024. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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