Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wisconsin Lake Property Owners Rightfully Fear Rush Of Permits By Default

Here's an analysis by Wisconsin Lakes, the state's leading association of lakefront property owners, of the newly-proposed Department of Natural Resources procedures in the Walker era which would award a host of permits to applicants if the understaffed agency cannot meet shorter permit review deadlines.

It's called "presumptive permitting,' or as I prefer, permitting by default. Is this the way an agency regulating natural resources should do its work?

And I wonder if property owners who voted for Walker knew that he and his legislative allies might be working to enable development, construction and other impacts close to their properties?

Bill would automatically award a permit if DNR failed to meet tight deadlines
A bill introduced in both the Assembly and Senate would shorten the amount of time DNR is allowed to complete the permitting process for structures, deposits and other activities in or near navigable waters. Assembly Bill 177 provides for shorter deadlines for DNR to rule on an application’s completeness, requests for public hearings and for final disposition of the permit. 

Under the bill, a failure of the department to issue a ruling on the permit within the new timeframes would automatically grant the applicant the permit. In addition, the bill would alleviate the applicant from facing the burden of proof in a contested case hearing, as it shifts the burden to DNR if the applicant requests the hearing, and to the entity requesting the hearing if anyone other than the applicant makes such a request.

Wisconsin Lakes is opposed to this bill, most significantly because of the risk of a rash of “presumptive permitting,” especially given the staffing and resource challenges facing DNR. With the number of DNR personnel working on permitting significantly below previous levels, an unintended consequence of the bill could easily be that the deadlines would not be able to be met for many permits. This would mean all of those permits would be presumptively approved by the law, with no review of the proposed activities and their potential impacts on our lakes, rivers and streams.

The law could be changed to partially mitigate this problem by delaying its implementation, allowing DNR time to hire adequate staff. And the Republican sponsors of the bill did express that their intent is not create a rash of presumptive permitting, but to force DNR to execute permitting in a timely fashion. Despite the best intentions, however, unintended consequences do arise, and history shows that adequate staffing and funding at DNR is not always consistently maintained.

The Assembly’s Committee on Housing heard testimony regarding this bill last Tuesday, and is scheduled to vote on it Wednesday, June 29. We anticipate the full Assembly will not take it up until the next session in September. The Senate has yet to take any action on the measure.

For a copy of the bill, click here.


Paul Trotter said...

Here come the 100 yard docks!

Riverkeeper said...

We also currently have 30 days as citizens to review draft permits for many development projects within 1000 feet of Lakes and 300 feet of rivers. Often, there are so many permits that its hard as citizen groups to be able to review in the 30 days. This reduced time frame in addition to the contested case provisions means that it will likely be impossible for citizen groups like ours to review and comment on permits affecting our rivers and lakes.

Anonymous said...

...and we're supposed to trust the Walker administration (and this legislature) that once this bill is passed they will not further downsize DNR regulatory staff thereby assuring developer-contributors have their way with our shorelands?