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September 22, 2019

8/27/2019 7:30:00 AM
Zoning department wants to track all impervious surfaces on shoreland, beyond
Aerial imagery would map driveways, patios, decks, walkways, and more

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

Though it has not yet been approved and one county committee voted not to propose the idea, the Oneida County zoning and land information departments are seeking to spend $66,000 to track and map impervious surfaces on properties in the shoreland zone and beyond.

The land records committee did not endorse the proposal, but the zoning committee embraced the idea as "necessary," with all five members of the zoning committee signing the review form. Those supervisors are Scott Holewinski, Ted Cushing, Billy Fried, Mike Timmons, and Jack Sorensen.

Their support pushed the proposal to the capital improvements subcommittee for review.

The idea also came up briefly at last Tuesday's meeting of the county board of supervisors, with supervisor Bill Liebert acknowledging he made the motion to nix the idea at the land records committee. Liebert said the county should not be trying to identify all impervious surfaces, but should do so on a case-by-case basis, when needed.

Specifically, the department's request states, impervious surface mapping using aerial imagery would "assist" the department in the administration of the county's ordinance and state statutes.

"The outlines and areas of all buildings will be mapped countywide," the request states. "Within 500 feet of water bodies, decks, driveways, walkways, parking lots, paved patios, and miscellaneous impervious surfaces will be mapped and made available to planning and zoning staff through the county GIS (geographic information system) to verify permit information."

According to the request, the county's land information office acquired aerial imagery of the county this past spring as part of the Wisconsin Aerial Imagery Program. An option for impervious surface mapping for 2020 was included in the aerial imagery contract.

At this week's capital improvement projects subcommittee, land information director Mike Romportl said the software would help better define features on the aerial photography of individual properties.

"What the impervious surface mapping does, it takes the aerial photography which we now have and it traces out all the buildings, and the driveways and roadways that are within 500 feet of the water," Romportl said.

Of the $66,000 price tag, $10,000 would come from the undesignated general fund balance. The remainder would come from the land information land records fee account ($15,000), an aerial imagery partnership reimbursement of $15,000, a Wisconsin Land Information grant ($15,000), and $12,000 from the planning and zoning non-metallic fund.

Romportl said a number of supervisors had asked how the county could better track impervious surfaces.

"There have been quite a few county board supervisors who have been coming up and asking Karl (zoning director Karl Jennrich) and asking (land information), 'what can we do in order to provide them with the tools needed to determine more accurately impervious surfaces, or to find out whether or not the people who are submitting permits are accurately reporting the impervious surfaces," he said.

Helping the public or spying on them?

One supervisor wondered if such precise mapping was needed.

"OK, so we do this, and you've got this aerial view of a lot on Crescent Lake, what do you do with it?" supervisor and capital improvements subcommittee chairman Robb Jensen asked.

Jensen said he was struggling with the concept. If the county mapped his neighbor, for example, and found the neighbor didn't meet the county's impervious surface requirements, what would the county do with that information, Jensen wondered.

"I'm wondering what the purpose of this is," he said. "Are we creating what we did with docks and piers? Now all of a sudden, we are putting this in here and are we going to go through every property on every lake and try to determine if they have met the standard, and if we evaluate who hasn't, what do you do?"

Supervisor Jack Sorensen said the purpose was more for those people who come in to expand or build on a lot.

"What's there is there," Sorensen said. "I don't think we are going to get into the business of going to each property owner and saying that they have too much impervious surface. What they are trying to do is take care of when people come in to either expand something existing or to know what they can do with a new construction."

Sorensen said he had never been a big fan of impervious surface regulations, but the state has those regulations in place and the county has to deal with them. He said the mapping tool would also help realtors.

Jensen said he thought it was more than the county needed.

"Here's what is going to happen," he said. "(A person will say) 'Oh by the way, I've got a concern about someone at 1300 so-and-so. Check their impervious surface and I want to know what you're going to do about it.' Then we start getting into that. Is this the time to monitor that kind of thing?"

Jennrich said the county had to regulate impervious surfaces, no matter whether supervisors liked the regulations or not.

"As part of the new NR115, every county is required to take a look at what you have on a property for existing impervious surfaces, and what you plan to add," Jennrich said. "Out of all of the provisions of the ordinance that went into effect, this is probably the hardest one for both staff to get their arms around and also for the public."

Jennrich said the thought was that the mapping could be a helpful tool.

"When Ayres and Associates came in and said they could map impervious surfaces, we asked them what they could map," he said. "This would help the public when they come to get permits to get at least a general idea of what they have for imperious surfaces. This technology may not cover some of these footpaths or some of the more minor issues, but it at least should get driveways, buildings, and the bulk of the impervious surfaces."

Jennrich said he wanted to get a ballpark of impervious surfaces on a property so he could figure out what regulations to apply to it. He also said he was getting questioned about what the department was doing in terms of on-site visits and follow-ups.

"We aren't on-site on everyone's property, and I don't want to get into the business of measuring impervious surfaces for people, so we thought that this could be a tool that we could use to check if the information that is being provided to the staff was reasonable," he said.

But Jennrich said his staff would still have to double check and check some of the smaller things.

Sorensen said the state Legislature often mandates things, such as impervious surface regulations, without having any real concept of the impact those regulations may have on counties.

"This is one of them," he said. "It sounded nice, it was environmentally friendly, politically correct, but they had no concept of what it involved and what cost it would involve with the county."

Sorensen said he worked with aerial photography a lot when he was in the Army.

"It doesn't scare me one bit," he said. "But there's a lot of people out there who say, 'Aren't you spying on me?'"

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at

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