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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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>
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."