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Wake surf boats hot topic for local lawmaker listening sessions

People packed into the Rhinelander District Library Monday for a listening session with Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Rob Swearingen.
Katie Thoresen
People packed into the Rhinelander District Library Monday for a listening session with Sen. Mary Felzkowski and Rep. Rob Swearingen.

Concerns about wake surf boats dominated listening sessions hosted by local state lawmakers, Senator Mary Felzkowski and Representative Rob Swearingen.

The sessions held in Eagle River, Minocqua, and Rhinelander on Monday were meant to give people an opportunity to talk about any topics on their minds.

The majority of the time was spent talking about recently introduced legislation by the two lawmakers regarding wake boats.

The bill would amend state law to include wakeboarding and wakesurfing. It would allow wake surf boats on lakes larger than 50 acres and keep them 200ft away from shorelines and docks.

Critics of the bill say that doesn’t go far enough.

At the Rhinelander session, people were concerned about lakeshore deterioration, AIS spread, and the safety of other people recreating on the lakes as they spoke against the bill as currently written.

“I've lost about two feet of shoreline since the wakeboards started running on there. I've spent close to $5,000 wrapping the shoreline trying to prevent it,” said a man who lives on Crescent Lake.

Some believe the boats should be limited to lakes 1,500 acres or larger and be at least 500ft from the shoreline when creating the large wakes.

People in favor of the bill say it will protect the sport. One person at the Rhinelander session was concerned people would try to ban the boats outright.

Senator Felzkowski stressed that this bill was just a starting point based off similar legislation in other states like Georgia and Tennessee.

She said the bill was the hottest topic she’s touched in her 12 years as a state lawmaker.

Felzkowski’s concern is finding a bill that will protect lakes while also allowing people to recreate responsibly.

“My colleagues that do represent these larger lakes that are over 1500 acres, they would be a no on the bill, if we put 1500 acres, because now we're putting concentrated weight boats on 77 lakes in the state of Wisconsin,” said Sen. Felzkowski.

There were also concerns about the bill’s restrictions on local control.

Felzkowski and Swearingen said a statewide, uniform restriction will allow the DNR and Sheriff’s Office to enforce it.

They said right now those agencies don’t enforce local town ordinances.

Felzkowski said there would be listening session in both the Senate and Assembly for this bill.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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