VCLRA board member Keith Montgomery gives his observations of the November 13th public listening sessions held in Eagle River, Minocqua and Rhinelander. Representative Rob Swearingen and Senator Mary Felzkowski drafted wakesurfing legislation, as reported in our earlier posts, which will allow wake boats to operate at 200 feet from shore on lakes greater than 50 acres. Moreover, the bill will include a provision to prohibit any municipality from passing local regulations that exceed the above limits.
I attended the Eagle River and Rhinelander listening sessions. I could not get into the Minocqua session, it was so packed. All sessions were standing room only! I managed to get a comment in at the Rhinelander session.
Representative Swearingen and Senator Felzkowski pointed out that there is currently no regulation, which is not a good situation. If we do not get a bill this year, it will be two years before we get anything (next year is an election year). They said they were open to changes in the bill.
Swearingen and Felzkowski presented the proposed bill as having continuity with the past — regulate by lake size and distance from shore (50 acres and 200 ft.). I pointed out that wakeboats are a radical new technology that cannot be compared to anything in the past — ski boats and personal water craft (PWC). And, when PWC regulation was introduced, the distance from shore was doubled from 100 to 200 ft — so why not double it again to 400 ft., at least? Based on my observing a wakeboat travelling near the shore, I also suggested there is no such thing as “slow no wake” if a wakeboat is stern down with ballast. Wakeboats must be on plane in the near shore.
Swearingen and Felzkowski said the DNR has told them they will not (not feasible?) enforce a depth restriction. Depths are too variable. I pointed out at a smart IT student could take digital maps and demarcate areas easily enough. But as we talked about at the 2023 six-county meeting in July, the DNR is woefully understaffed to deal with complaints and reports.
Other comments were about the environmental cost of shoreline damage and the economic cost to property owners in preventing damage to their property with rip-rap; economic damage through loss of property values on disturbed lakes; loss of fishing; AIS transport; safety issues; lake bottom damage and damage to fishing grounds; plus the fact that we are talking 4% of [wakeboat] lake users compared to the interests of the other 96% of lake users represented in the room. There were few voices in support of the proposed bill. No one spoke from the industry, although they might have been in attendance. The interest and attendance was impressive.
“Safety issues” — it was pointed out that rafts are permitted out to 200 ft provided they do not interfere with navigation in channels and such. This might be safety issue with kids on rafts.
For some reason, the legislators let Fred Prehn open and then lead and close the Q & A at Eagle River and Minocqua (he was not at the Rhinelander session). He has started the “Lakes at State” organization (https://www.lakesatstake.org/ ). He has impeccable Republican credentials. He said that 1500 acres had been suggested as a size limit, but that was too restrictive – 77 lakes – he thought 1200 acres would leave a sufficient number of lakes open. Felzkowski and Swearingen asked for sympathy for the pushback they will get if we go with 1500 acres. I wonder if Fred has some inside information on this. I’ll note that Fred is a full-time resident on Big Portage (586 acres).
Felzkowski and Swearingen say they have had serious issues getting committees to hear the bill – no one wants to deal with the pushback. Likely hearing(s) will be held in December to get a bill done.
If you want to get updates on the bill as it moves through the legislative process, go to https://legis.wisconsin.gov/ and select “Notification Service” and enter either “Senate Bill 680” or keyword “wakeboats”.