The Oneida County Planning and Development Committee voted last week to have the county's zoning department work with the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association (OCLRA) to develop educational brochures for shoreland property owners.
Zoning director Karl Jennrich told the committee he had been approached by the association, which offered its help to the department in providing information and public outreach.
According to Bob Martini, who represented the association at the committee meeting, the idea generally is to develop informational pamphlets for property owners related to shoreland construction projects - what they can do and what they can't do.
"There's a lot of information out there about this subject," Martini said. "There are scientific documents. There are documents written for the average homeowner. There are all sorts of things in between for lake users. There's at least two dozen different kinds of pamphlets that describe what they should and shouldn't do on a lakefront property to try and protect water quality."
Given the wealth of information, Martini said, the association conceived the idea of working with the zoning department to select the most pertinent and relevant information for Oneida County.
"What we had in mind was, if we could sit down with Karl (Jennrich) and Pete (assistant director Wegner) and talk about the main issues, the things that really cause people the most concern or confusion ... we could try to put together some pamphlets that give background information - what is going to happen if you do this, why is this not a good practice," he said.
Based on the concept that most people want to do the right thing, Martini said, if they are given enough information, property owners will come to the decision that the advice is good to follow to protect their investments.
"They are all interested in protecting their investment, which in their case is the quality of the lake," he said.
In the current regulatory atmosphere, Martini said, enforcement and education are key.
"In view of the fact that there are less regulatory options out there, the idea is to shift as much effort as possible to enforcement and to education, relying on the good will of most people and their self-interest in protecting their investment," he said.
Martini said discussion with staff would lead to informational products based on real-life experience.
"So what we propose is that we sit down with staff and run through a whole series of topics that we've already written on and try to figure out which ones would be most useful based on their experience with people coming in and applying for permits," Martini said. "What questions do they normally ask? What are the misconceptions? What would they like more information on and then try to design some handouts that could be given to every person who applies for a permit in the zoning department as background information."
Martini said that would also open the door to landowners to ask for assistance from staff in zoning or from those in the land and water conservation department who have an obligation to provide technical assistance that protects the lakes.
"So there could be a number of functions for this information," he said. "One of the most important ones, I think, along with your pre-construction visit, is to document existing conditions and inform the landowner of things that they might not know about that could cause problems in the development of their lot."
And then, Martini continued, if they violate the permit conditions, staff could come back and say, "We had this pre-existing information and here's what there is now and it is a violation of the permit."
"It simplifies enforcement as well," he said.
Martini said both the zoning and land and water conservation departments could apply for a DNR grant to pay for the printing.
"That's what Langlade and Lincoln counties did," he said. "They got a grant not only for the printing but also for the salary of the individual who goes out and talks to these landowners, and they did that for several years with DNR grants and it worked out really well."
In addition, Martini said, Wisconsin's Green Fire has offered to help review and search the scientific literature "for scientifically valid principles" in the development of the pamphlets.
"Wisconsin's Green Fire has about 200 scientific personnel, retired people with an average of 30 years experience each working on water issues, wildlife, shoreland, all kinds of issues like that, that have also offered to help," he said. "One of the individuals has one of the best bibliographies of shoreline protection information in existence."
Wisconsin's Green Fire is a conservation organization whose board is composed of mostly former DNR officials, including Martini.
Committee members observed that the department has worked with the OCLRA in the past, but Martini said those publications focused more on general background information while these would be more directly related to construction projects - what people have to think about in designing and constructing a project on the lake.
Yes, but ...
Committee members expressed a willingness to work with the association but expressed a desire to have control of the information in the final product. Supervisor Jack Sorensen said it was a good idea so long as the committee had final approval.
Martini did not quite say they would, though he said the committee would approve the grant scope.
"Obviously, if there was a grant application, the committee would have to approve anything in the grant application and you would also obviously be given whatever drafts we have to review," he said. "You might have all kinds of suggestions as to what to add or delete. The idea is to have a cooperative effort between the committee, the staff, and some people who have experience with science."
Committee chairman Scott Holewinski expressed some skepticism about that science.
"I would be a little concerned about what you say is a scientific study and what I would say would be an opinion in these pamphlets," he said.
Sorensen said he was about to say the same thing.
"We're not looking for a pamphlet full of editorializing," Sorensen said. "We're looking for a pamphlet that solves problems."
Martini called it advice: "If you do this, this is going to happen. Here is a better alternative. That kind of stuff."
Supervisor Dave Hintz thought the idea was a good one overall.
"I think the premise is that people want to do the right thing, and if they are presented with logical things they can do that will have an impact, they will do the right thing," Hintz said. "They may not be aware of what the right thing is until they read this."
"They are coming from a different context," he said. "If they are from a suburban area downstate with a 100-foot lot, it doesn't make any difference what they do on that lot."
Supervisor Billy Fried said the committee had to be careful with what was being put into the pamphlets, and he said dissemination was key. But he expressed more concern with tasking an already overstretched staff with even more work.
Martini said he envisioned a short meeting with staff to determine goals and topics and then the association would go off, do its work, and return with drafts in "a month or two."
Toward the end of the discussion, Sorensen suggested the information could be used as a warning stick for potential wrongdoers as well as a digestible carrot of information for citizens wanting to do the right thing.
"Though most people want to do the right thing, we have run into people, mostly in closed session, who have tried to push the envelope as far they can and then beg forgiveness after the fact, so there are those people out there," Sorensen said.
Martini said it went hand-in-hand with doing better enforcement.
"Not only letting them know what they have to do upfront but making sure they do it at the end and having good rules and making sure people understand what the rules are in advance gives them the message that you're not going to get away with it by not notifying the zoning department," he said.
The motion to have zoning staff work with the OCLRA passed with no opposition.
Richard Moore is the author of The New Bossism of the American Left and can be reached at www.rmmoore1.com.
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