20 tips for buying a lake home in NW Wisconsin: #11 Critical Habitat Designations – How They Affect Waterfront Owners

Depending on where you live, critical habitat designations may overlap with other regulations that are already in place at the state, county, and local level.  In some cases, they may provide additional protections.  In other cases, they simply clarify the regulations that would already apply.

As the DNR explains at http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/criticalhabitat/ , Critical Habitat Designations provide advance information to waterfront owners when they want to begin a construction project or some other activity along their shoreline. If a project is proposed in a designated Critical Habitat area, the permit jurisdiction or the permit process may change. This allows DNR to ensure that proposed projects will not harm these sensitive resources.

Here, from the DNR website, are some simple examples:

  • Grading – Permits are required for any project that involves more than 10,000 square feet of land disturbance on the bank of a waterway (typically within 75 feet of the bank). If the project is located in a designated Critical Habitat area, the permit jurisdiction changes to include all areas within 300 feet of the shoreline.
  • Structures – Some projects to place structures in a waterway are exempt, and don’t require a permit. However, if the project is located in a designated Critical Habitat area, a general permit or individual permit may be required. For example, riprap repair or replacement is generally exempt from permitting if specific design criteria are met. However, repair or replacement of existing riprap within or adjacent to a sensitive area is not exempt and requires a permit. Additionally, sensitive area designations are a consideration in the analysis of individual permit applications.
  • Aquatic Plant Management – DNR may deny permits for chemical treatment for aquatic plant management if the proposed chemical application is in a sensitive area, unless DNR determines that it can occur without ecological impacts. Manual removal of plants is normally exempt from permit. However, manual removal within a sensitive area is not exempt and is subject to a permit requirements. (Note: This regulation preceded the 2004 change in waterway regulations noted above.)

These regulations are rarely of the sort that most people would describe as overly restrictive.  In many ways, they’re actually a plus for landowners.