Make Sure Your Pier is Conforming or Grandfathered
It's important to know about the state and local pier regulations before your buy a lakefront home. Ask your Realtor, or do it yourself. Get a copy of the state department of natural resource's laws for waterfront property owners. Local laws can trump state laws if they are more regulatory, so make sure to check with the local building inspector or county administrator about particular ordinances. In Wisconsin, pier laws were the most controversial and heavily debated waterfront property owner issue of last decade. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was trying to impose new administrative rules for new and existing piers, and any pier owner that did not meet the new administrative rules would have to either modify or take out the pier. The rule changes would have made thousands of Wisconsin piers nonconforming and illegal. It would have been impossible for the department to actually enforce the new standards because so many were non complying.
Lakefront property owners were up in arms over the new proposals. Some of the department's proposals included the approval of an application for a property owner to keep an existing pier unless the DNR could prove that the pier didn't interfere with public rights and neighbors' riparian rights, violate a local ordinance, or allow water to move underneath the pier. It didn't matter if the pier was there for fifty years, they had no intention of grandfathering any existing pier. If your Wisconsin pier is greater than six feet wide, you would have been forced to pay a $300 fee and obtain a permit to keep the pier. Thankfully, legislators stepped up to introduce legislation that would grandfather existing piers from any new rules the DNR was trying to impose.
Now in Wisconsin all piers have to meet a very specific standard of rules or administrative codes. Currently, the new state standards in Wisconsin require all piers to be no wider than 6 feet. They may not extend further than the 3-foot water depth or beyond the point deep enough to moor a boat. You can not have more than 2 boat slips for the first 50 feet of frontage, plus one additional boat slip for each additional 50 feet of water frontage. Piers can not be located in sensitive areas. More specifically, you can't place a pier over crucial habitat area, possible spawning beds, etc. It's to be determined by the department.
If you meet those standards, you don't have to apply for a permit. Again, you must get a copy of the rules before you purchase the property or at least before you purchase your pier/docking system. If you don't, it could result in non-compliance, fines, or even the removal of your system.