Diffusing dock disputes
While open water seems a distant future, Crow Wing County’s dock ordinance was before commissioners Tuesday.
Commissioner Paul Koering brought the topic before the committee of the whole meeting.
“I’m just questioning if Crow Wing County and the sheriff’s department needs to be the dock police,” Koering said.
Koering said he is for less regulation and smaller government. He questioned if the sheriff’s department needed to step in between neighbors fighting with each other when a dock is a foot or two one way or the other.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said he is just as big an advocate for less government as Koering is but the county’s 14-year-old ordinance didn’t come out of thin air.
The ordinance, established in 2000, covers slalom courses, speed and no-wake zones and dock placement. With the ordinance, docks must be confined to riparian zone, can’t obstruct navigation or isolate part of the waterway. Docks are also required to be setback 10 feet from adjacent property lines so they don’t encroach upon the neighbor.
With the county ordinance, a violation could be a misdemeanor. But there is a question of how many go on to court. Last year, Sgt. Adam Kronstedt, Boat and Water supervisor, said the county attorney’s office declined to prosecute. Commissioners were told there are few counties regulating dock location.
Kronstedt said deputies aren’t surveyors but are asked to interpret imaginary lines going out into the water between two properties
“We do the best we can but it does take up a lot of our time,” Kronstedt said, noting last year the sheriff’s office went through the whole process but the county attorney’s office declined to prosecute.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen asked how things would change for the sheriff’s office if the ordinance was no longer in place. Kronstedt said the sheriff’s department would be involved in keeping the peace between two property owners and direct them to civil court.
Thiede said he shudders to think how many docks are in his district compared to Koering’s.
“This was not being resolved without this,” Thiede said, noting sheriff’s deputies were going to be going out there anyway and this was designed to give them a way to resolve the dock disputes.
Has the ordinance been successful? Thiede said more information was needed to know how many complaints were reported before the ordinance was in place. Administrator Tim Houle said he wasn’t sure the county had the data on the complaint numbers Thiede was requesting.
“Was this perfect? I’m sure not, but maybe it was better than it used to be,” Thiede said. “... Look at that and if you tell me this cut them in half or cut them by two-thirds, I’m willing to put it out there and have the public discussion but it’s going to be a wild one.”
In 2013, the county received six dock-related complaints. In 2012, there were a dozen. The Department of Natural Resources reports getting two to three calls per week during the open-water season.
Koering suggested putting the subject of repealing the ordinance up for a board vote. Such a change requires a public hearing.
Houle said he didn’t think there was a right or wrong answer. On one hand, he said, regulating dock placement isn’t in the county’s core issues of environmental protection or public safety so there was a legitimate argument as to whether this was something county government should step into. On the other hand, Houle said in the absence more people will be arguing and left to themselves and that must have been problematic enough to create an ordinance in the first place.
“I personally don’t think we need this ordinance,” Koering said, adding there is a civil court option. “I just don’t know if the sheriff’s department needs to be the dock police or the referee between people that are having issues, whether it’s in the water or whether it’s on your property line.”
Koering said there are a lot of emergencies the sheriff’s department can handle instead.
“I think sometimes people have to solve problems on their own rather than looking to the government to fix every single problem for them. That’s just the way it is.” Koering said. “That’s tough love.”