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The Tomahawk Leader is a state and national prize-winning weekly newspaper serving the scenic Northwoods area in and around Tomahawk, WI.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2002 1:07 am 
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When we were made aware of the “dockominium” issue, we thought it was something that people in our area should know about. While the current case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court involves a specific property in far southern Wisconsin, it has implications that could impact every private dock owner in the state.<p>We aren’t aware of any actual dockominium developments in the Tomahawk area, but we can think of hundreds of private docks, just off the top of our heads.<p>Having read the Court of Appeals decision in the Lake Geneva dockominium case, we agree with those who say it raises a red flag for private property rights. We think it’s important that, whatever decision the Supreme Court comes to, it clarifies that the ruling should only apply to dockominiums. <p>We find it interesting that various groups with conflicting interests – both those who support and oppose the right of marina owners to sell boat slips – are all suing the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the issue.<p> In this case, the DNR has said there’s a difference between renting boat slips and selling them. The rationale is that the waters of Wisconsin belong to the public and no one has the right to sell even a small piece of water. But isn’t that what people do every day, when they sell a waterfront property? Buyers pay big money, and ever after big taxes, for the private ownership of a shoreline and dock, including the exclusive right to moor their boat on that dock.<p>The whole issue is one of splitting hairs. When you buy a waterfront property, you know you’re not actually buying the water, just the land adjacent to the water and the dock above it. Same with a dockominium. Those people are buying a place to keep their boat (attached to a man-made pier), not an actual piece of water.<p>From our rather comfortably distant vantage point, it appears that dockominiums should be regulated to keep the number of boats within the carrying capacity of the specific water body. But we don’t really see a big problem with renting or selling spaces in a marina. <p>As for the ramifications for private pier owners who have no intention of selling dock space, we urge the Supreme Court to be careful in the way its decision is worded. A straight affirmation of the over broad Court of Appeals Ruling could open a Pandora’s box.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2002 7:50 pm 
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In Key West there is a section of shoreline just north of Smathers Beach on the ocean side of the island. It is called "houseboat row". These people live on houseboats tied to permanent docks that are even served by water outlets and electricity meters, which they pay the utilities for. However, they don't pay any city, county or state taxes as a homeowner would. They use the city school system for their children and call upon the city police for assistance when needed. The city has tried to tax them but they are on Federal water and have been living like that for years--taxless-rentless. These houseboats are lavishly appointed and quite desirable places to live. Wonder how it would be up here, if squatters like those took up residence either on shorelines or even at anchor year round, taxless, rentless, and sending their children to our schools for free???


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2002 4:57 pm 
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If someone decides to use a "private" dock and somehow sustains an injury on said dock, Is the dock owner liable? Can users of public waters be sued for damage to shoreline from boat wakes etc?


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2002 12:08 am 
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There was an interesting article in the Minoqua paper on this issue. The author made it sound like I could buy property across the road from a lake shore property owner, walk across their land & then use their dock, diving raft, or Anything they owned that extended into the water. <p>That sounds seriously warped to me.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 30, 2002 10:38 am 
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Reference to article in Minaqua paper. If this comes to be, shouldn't appropriate adjustments be made to property taxes, transfer some assesment from lakeshore owners to off water owners to compensate for usage?


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 16, 2002 2:30 pm 
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 16, 2002<p>CONTACT
Attorney Bill O’Connor
608.742.0379<p>Donna Sefton, Executive Director
Wisconsin Association of Lakes
608.662.0923
dsefton@wisconsinlakes.org
www.wisconsinlakes.org

HIGH COURT RULES "DOCKOMINIUMS" UNCONSTITUTIONAL

A seven-year legal battle ended today with a decisive victory for the Wisconsin Association of Lakes (WAL) and all of Wisconsin's waters. In a decision released today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed that the dockominium form of ownership "violates the public trust doctrine because it transfers ownership of public waters to private individuals." (For the opinion go to ABKA Limited v. DNR, 99-2306 www.courts.state.wi.us/supreme.) <p> Bill O'Connor, a Madison attorney who represented the WAL said that he was "tickled pink" by the decision. "This is a decisive victory for the people of the state of Wisconsin. The high court has refused to allow Wisconsin's lakes to be subdivided and sold to the highest bidder for private profit. Were dockominiums legal, they would spread like wildfire, ruining water quality and harming fishing." <p> Donna Sefton, the Executive Director of WAL, was also pleased. "Wisconsin's lakes are an important resource for everyone, not just those who would like to buy pieces of them," she noted.
MORE<p>Dockominium decision
Page 2<p> WAL has long objected to projects, including dockominiums, which turn lakes into superhighways which destroy near-shore habitat, an area necessary for fish and invertebrate reproduction. Sefton noted, “Wisconsin's lakes can only withstand some pressure, and when the pressure on a lake exceeds its carrying capacity, the lake is destroyed for everyone.”

Justice William Bablitch concurred in the Court's opinion. He wrote, "It is axiomatic that the public waters of this state belong to the public. The public is entitled to the full reasonable use and enjoyment of these waters, including the enjoyment that comes with the natural beauty of the waters. One can easily imagine the damage to the aesthetic appeal of our lakes if this concept is allowed." <p> Justices Diane Sykes and David Prosser dissented. <p> The case began in 1995 when the ABKA limited partnership decided to sell the boat slips at its Geneva Lake marina for up to $70,000 each. In order to do so, ABKA set up a scheme where purchasers would buy a post office box located on land. The post office box carried with it the rights to a portion of Geneva Lake large enough to dock a boat at a pier. It called this scheme a "dockominium" or a condominium of the lake. <p> ABKA and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed that ABKA would apply for a permit authorizing the conversion of the marina to a dockominium. <p> The Geneva Lake Conservancy objected to the permit application because a dockominium authorizes the sale of lakes, which are owned by the people of Wisconsin, not private persons. Because of the objection, the case was assigned to an administrative law judge for decision.<p> MORE<p>
Dockominium decision
Page 3<p>
The WAL joined the battle before the administrative law judge, arguing that dockominiums were an unconstitutional sale of Wisconsin's lakes. The judge did not agree, but limited the sales of the slips to 120 of the 407 slips. The judge ruled that 287 of the slips must remain as yearly rentals. <p> ABKA appealed to the Walworth County Circuit Court, which affirmed the administrative law judge. ABKA appealed again to the court of appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the WAL that dockominiums were unconstitutional.

ABKA's final appeal was to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which agreed with the Court of Appeals that dockominiums were unconstitutional, though for a different reason than that of the court of appeals. <p> The Supreme Court said that the post office boxes were "phantom units" which do not meet the correct definition of a condominium. The Court said, "It is a sham to suggest that these four-by-five-by-six inch lock boxes are being conveyed for such independent uses as are stated in the declaration."

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