'Forget about what the state says': Oneida County supervisor urges board to defy state law to protect lakes, riversSubmitted: 05/24/2017
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

'Forget about what the state says': Oneida County supervisor urges board to defy state law to protect lakes, rivers
RHINELANDER - At least one elected supervisor in the Northwoods hopes his county ignores state law and goes its own way.

It's the latest argument over shoreland zoning rules in Wisconsin.

In 2015, a new law limited counties' ability to make their own shoreland zoning rules regarding issues such as lot size, vegetation, and setback of buildings. Instead, counties needed to follow a zoning law that is less restrictive to property owners. The law applies to the entire state.

People such as Oneida County Board Supervisor Bob Mott believe the law will lead to a decline in the quality of Oneida County lakes.

"Forget about what the state says," Mott said. "What's best for Oneida County?"

Mott feels that ignoring state law is best for Oneida County.

"You do what's right for the citizens of Oneida County. You do what's right for the lakes of Oneida County," Mott said. "You take a stand."

Mott wants the county to pass stronger shoreland zoning rules, even if they conflict with state law.

His argument is an environmental one, but also an economic one. Mott points out that tourists spent $221 million in Oneida County in 2016. He believes that without superior lake quality tourists would be less interested in coming to the water, and spending would decrease.

"We need to protect the goose that lays the golden egg," Mott said. "How can we pose things in economic values? Everybody's not a tree-hugger."

Scott Holewinski chairs the county committee that drafts shoreland zoning rules.

"There's two things, protecting the waters of Wisconsin and also protecting the property rights of people that butt up to those waters," Holewinski said.

He says Mott's group, the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association, isn't representative of what he's hearing from the public.

"No matter what ordinance, I think, the committee comes up with to present to the county board, Oneida County Lakes and Rivers would say, 'More strict, more strict,'" Holewinski said.

Mott wants to see the committee stand up to the state, even if it means penalties later on.

"If the state comes in and absolutely says, 'We're going to lock you all up,' Okay, let's get all locked up," he said.

If Oneida County ignores state law, it could face a state takeover of some zoning ordinances. Oneida County Corporation Counsel said the DNR could come in and enforce an ordinance that conforms to state law. The DNR could then charge the county for its work.

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