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Private Piers on Public Land Sparks Concern

Town of Minocqua

MINOCQUA – Lakes are everywhere in the township of Minocqua, and at times water use issues also seem to be everywhere. The town board Tuesday took up two unrelated ones that have been slowly coming to a boil.

The board decided to hire outside legal counsel to research and represent the town in matters where private parties have placed piers and accessory structures, such as shore stations, on public property on the Island of Minocqua.

Town chairman Mark Hartzheim said they have identified about 25 piers they believe have been placed in the public right-of-way along portions of West Park Avenue, East Park Avenue and East Chicago Avenue.

The issue has cropped up in the past, but town boards have largely ignored it if a homeowner living across the street had placed a portable pier. But last winter the town had to halt construction of a permanent pier on town property. Another property owner tried to place a pier adjacent to the public launch near the town offices.

Piers have evolved from a simple 4x8-foot configuration to ones that are L-shaped and have multiple berths, the town chairman said. Officials believe there are at least a couple of piers that were placed by people who don’t even own adjacent property.

“It’s come to the point where the town has kicked the can about as far as it can,” Hartzheim said. He said the town needs “another set of legal eyeballs” on the issue before it takes any formal action, presumably requiring offending piers to be removed.

“It has been kicked down the road long enough,” agreed supervisor Brian Fricke.

“It’s gotta stop,” said supervisor John Thompson.

The board accepted Hartzheim’s recommendation to hire attorney Larry Konopacki, of the law firm Stafford Rosenbaum in Madison. The town chairman said Konopacki has extensive knowledge of legal issues surrounding piers. He will do research on his own, but will also work with town attorney Greg Harrold to coordinate a report to the board.

His rate is $210 an hour. The board discussed holding the maximum to $5,000, but was swayed by Hartzheim to bring it up to $7,500. “You’re going to have to spend some money to resolve this,” he said.

In that other lake matter that night, no action took place.

It’s no secret that boats and their engines are getting bigger on Northwoods lakes, including those in Minocqua. The town owns and maintains boat launches, including on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes.

Over the last few weeks, the board has struggled to determine the appropriate maximum weight of boats launching from those town facilities. Director of public works Mark Pertile initially proposed lifting the current 6,000-pound limit to allow upwards of 10,000 pounds per boat and trailer.

He felt that it would accommodate the vast majority of boats currently seen on the chain and other lakes. The higher limit should not result in harm to either the concrete ramps or the adjoining docks, he said.

But at the last board meeting, after hearing concerns by citizen Pat Abrahamson who lobbied against any higher limits, the board seemed to settle on 8,000 pounds for the boat and trailer.

Then this Tuesday supervisors took a step back because one supervisor was absent and another had abstained from discussion and any vote because he owns a boating company in Minocqua.

About a dozen citizens were there also to voice opposition to higher weight limits. But their real anger was directed toward large boats, especially “surf” boats, that are creating very large wakes, they said. Not only do smaller craft have to fight the waves, but shorelines are also being eroded, they said.

Hartzheim noted that the state does not allow local municipalities to discriminate against a particular style of boats.

In the end, after an hour’s discussion, Hartzheim called for the matter to be tabled and brought back at one of the July meetings.

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