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Pawlenty rejects updated shore development rules

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty has rejected new shoreland regulations proposed by the DNR, saying the rules undermine local control and property rights. 

 The updated lakeshore construction and dock rules were aimed at protecting Minnesota's lakes from what some see as overdevelopment. But the governor says the revisions overreach, and undermine local control and property rights, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Friday.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten said many citizens and stakeholders have expressed concerns similar to the governor's, and his agency will go back to work.

"The rules you forwarded to me regarding these issues do not strike a proper balance between protection of our lakes and waterways and the equally important right of our citizens to enjoy them and their property," Pawlenty said in a letter to Holsten.

The governor's decision means the state's decades-old standards, which are commonly considered out of date, will remain in place a good while longer. Had Pawlenty accepted the draft changes, public hearings would have begun soon, and new standards could have been in place next year.

"The governor is just washing his hands of the issue and saying it's not important to him to keep our lakes clean and to protect habitat for fish," said Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Senate Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division.

Under the proposed updates, size limits would have been placed on many types of large docks with tightened or revised requirements for many new buildings, developments and sewage systems.

"The old rules reflect a time when lakes had a few small cabins on them. They don't reflect (today's) large homes with bigger footprints and the continuing degradation of water in Minnesota lakes," said Scott Strand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

The Legislature ordered the updates years ago, and a task force recommended voluntary guidelines four years ago. Since then, the DNR and a wide array of interests have worked on them. But Pawlenty, who received the proposed changes months ago, hit the brakes.

"In their current form, these rules would be vetoed by me if advanced to the next stage of the rule-making process," Pawlenty wrote.

The governor acknowledged that some problems exist, such as people who've installed docks or platforms that are unreasonably large.

"However, the vast majority of lakeshore property owners have been responsible and reasonable with their docks or platforms," he said. "This good faith approach has served generations of Minnesotans reasonably well without the state government imposing a one-size-fits-all standard when lakeshore circumstances vary so widely."

One of the proposals would have limited the size of a private platform to 120 square feet, or 170 square feet if a portion of the access dock is included. Another proposal would prohibit new development within 50 feet of the shoreline. 

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP PLEDGES MORE ACTION

Marian Bender, Executive Director of Minnesota Waters, a group representing more than 300 lake associations across the state, said her organization will increase efforts to get counties to adopt stronger shore land regulations even if the state does not.

"It's disappointing, but it doesn't mean it's going to stop at the local level," Bender said.  "If our governor won't support it, then the people will and we'll help do everything we can to help.

Bender believes the proposed rules were fair and flexible. 

"It's heartbreaking. This is our state. Minnesota is defined by lakes and rivers and we can't get our act together to support laws that protect them?" she said. "I just don't understand that."

Bender said rules protecting lakes already vary widely among counties. She said without new statewide rules, shore land regulations are likely to become even more fragmented across the state.  

A handful of counties have already adopted some of the proposed changes to shore land zoning.

  (MPR Reporter Dan Gunderson contributed to this report.)

   (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)