Public speaks out about loss of commercial dock

(Above) Speaking at a standing-room-only meeting with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Monday at Clear Lake State Park, local business owner Brad Barber stressed the impact the lake’s accessibility has on the community.-Reporter photo.

Sunset Bay Marina owner tells DNR leader he will seek variance immediately

Clear Lake residents and others from throughout North Iowa with an interest in boating here filled the Clear Lake State Park lodge Monday night to discuss the potential loss of commercial boat slips.

The meeting, while intended to focus on all lake issues, was dominated by discussion of a variance which has now expired for the Sunset Bay Marina dock adjacent to Clear Lake State Park.  The Entner family has operated the dock since the 1970s, however under the terms of an agreement Dale Entner signed with the DNR, the dock variance is non-transferable and expired at the time of his death earlier this year.   Without a variance, the 496-foot Sunset Bay dock must revert to standard 300-foot length.

Dale’s son, Tim, is seeking to keep the longer dock, saying boat lift space on the lake is extremely limited.  The loss of the commercial dock could leave up to 40 boat owners without a boat slip next summer.  He has also voiced concerns about safety in the area if his long dock is not providing a landmark to keep boats a safe distance from the Clear Lake State Park Beach.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp led the discussion with approximately 175 persons at the meeting, several of which have spaces on the Sunset Bay Marina dock.

“I am very hesitant to grant variances because they come back to bite you 20-years later,” said Gipp.  As the audience questioned when a decision would be made about the dock, Gipp snapped back that no dock application from Entner has been presented for his review.

“I’m not going to give a blank check.  If there was a dock application in front of me, then I could consider a variance,” he continued.

Entner quickly responded that he planned to submit an application later that evening.

“It will be just like it has been the last eight years,” he said.  Entner said later he had not submitted an application because he could not get clear direction from the department about how he should proceed.

Gipp, along with local DNR officers, explained the Sunset Bay Marina dock was an exception to the state’s rules for docks in a number of ways.  One difference is that it was allowed to exist as a commercial dock on a property zoned residential by the City of Clear Lake.

Gipp said a zoning change would be necessary for the current commercial dock standards to be used.

The State also said Entner’s dock was found to have encroached State property in the 1980s when Dale Entner artificially filled an approximate 10-70-foot portion of sovereign shoreline adjoining his lot.  Subsequently, in 1989 the State required him to begin making a lease payment of $600 per year to continue using State Park property to extend his dock.

Kathy Atkinson, secretary at the Clear Lake DNR office when the State’s dock rules were written and implemented in 2007, said she opposed the continuation of the dock because she feels that making an exception will set a precedent.

“I understand the dilemma caused by shortening this dock and turning it into a private dock off residential property,  Some boat slips for people who cannot afford to buy shoreline property will be lost.  Iowans are begging for more public hoist space for their boats.  I would rather the DNR try to come up with a different solution to providing hoist space or possibly more public landings for those who will be displaced,” said Atkinson, who is now retired from the DNR.

Bethany Bowman said she is among the many who are waiting for a boat slip on Clear Lake.  “I’m still 71 spots out after six years of waiting on a list,” she said. She is one of those who would lose a spot on the Sunset Bay Marina dock.  She also shared the feeling of many who said trailering their boats in and out of the water is difficult due to limited accesses and lack of parking for their vehicles and trailers.

The Clear Lake Parks and Recreation Department currently has a waitlist of more than 300 persons wanting boat lift spaces on public docks; the county’s list tops 200.

Sue O’Loughlin, secretary for the Iowa DNR and dockmaster for northeast Iowa, said the loss of 30 boat slips on the Sunset View Marina dock would represent a loss of less than 2 percent of boat slips on Clear Lake.  Currently, there are 758 permits issued by the DNR for 770 docks, providing 2,449 boat slips.

However, the loss of the Sunset View Marina slips is a 10 percent drop in commercial boat slips, others pointed out.

“We’re not asking for more spaces, we’re just asking not to have any taken away,” said Kirk Kraft, former Clear Lake mayor.  “We have more public access on this lake than most others and the City, organizations and families have given millions to improve the lake and provide access.  It’s taken all of us, not just the DNR.  The Ritz dock spaces are gone.  The (former) Harbor Inn has public access, but no more dock spaces. Touristville and the Shady Beach spaces are lost.  If we lose Sunset Bay we are trading 70 (spaces) for four.  I don’t want to see this become another single family dock.  I would ask for a variance to be granted.  This lake is not overly used or overloaded.”

Cherise Sissel, a member of Clear Lake’s Board of Adjustment, also favored a variance, saying they are common place.  “We look at each request and evaluate them.  You should do the same,” she told Gipp.

Brad Barber, owner of Cabin Coffee, urged Gipp and the DNR to also consider the impact those who use the lake have on local business.

“We need to keep growing this community.  This lake positively impacts this community and area.  Those (boat) stalls add a lot of value to our community.”

Alex Yohn added his voice, saying young businessmen like himself and Jake Kopriva, owner of Lake Time Boat Club which uses slips on the Sunset Bay dock, should be given opportunities to succeed.  “You’re going to put people out of business,” he said.

Joan Harringa, a resident of Denver, Iowa confirmed that her family comes to Clear Lake each weekend to use their boat, located on the Sunset Bay dock, and they and many others do support the business community here.

“Unlike other lakes Clear Lake is landlocked and the restrictions put on in 2008 have caused the lake to be semi-private,” said Tim Stenberg. “There is no growth available.  We need a mechanism so more can enjoy the lake.  I hope this is a listening and responding session.”

“There is limited public land on this lake, but more than others.  We have utilized it to the best of our ability, said DNR Supervisor Randy Schnoebelen.

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