Manitowish Chain Defense Fund Update

The following information was provided by the Manitowish Chain Defense Fund:

The DNR is Proposing Drastic Changes to the Rest Lake Dam Operating Order!  The Manitowish Chain Defense Fund Urges Concerned Citizens to Study the DNR’s Proposal and Make Your Voices Heard!

Last month the DNR issued a proposed order that would make radical changes to how the Rest Lake Dam has been operated for nearly 75 years.  The Manitowish Chain Defense Fund (MCDF) opposes the proposed order and we urge all concerned citizens to do the same.  Please review this notice carefully so that you will have information you need to have the greatest possible impact on this process and make sure your voice is heard!

Details of the DNR’s Proposed Order

The DNR is proposing to modify lake levels at the dam and in the Manitowish Chain as follows:

Under the Current Order:  (1) Summer water levels are generally kept between an 8’0” minimum and 8’6” maximum.  (2) The winter drawdown lowers the water level to 5’0” by November 1.  (3) The spring refill begins after 75% of the ice is gone, usually around April 20.  (4) Year round, the dam is operated to achieve and maintain historic summer water levels as much as possible.

Under the Proposed Order:  (1) Summer water levels would fluctuate between a 7’6” minimum and 8’6” maximum. (2) The winter drawdown would be limited so that the water level would never fall below 7’6”.  (3) Year round, the dam would be operated to maintain downstream flows as much as possible, resulting in much greater variation of water levels on the Manitowish Chain.

A complete copy of the DNR’s proposal can be found online at  The DNR’s Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding this proposal can also be found online at

The DNR’s Proposal Fails to Address Critical Questions

The DNR’s proposal has glossed over critically important questions, such as:  Will lower summer water levels affect your ability to enjoy the Chain?  How much water do you need to get your boat in the lake and navigate the Chain?  At what water level does access and navigation become a problem?  In the winter, will higher water levels damage your pier, boat lift, boathouse, riprap, or seawall?  Will you be able to protect your shoreline structures from ice damage?  If so, what will it cost to do that?  If not, will that affect you?  With all the changes being made by the DNR, how will your property value be affected?  How will your use of the Chain be affected?  Has the DNR identified any benefits of increased water levels in the Chain that would offset the drawbacks?  How much property damage will the DNR’s proposal cause overall?  Is the DNR listening to you?  Does the DNR care how its order will affect you?

The MCDF Has Been Working To Answer Questions The DNR Hasn’t Addressed

Because the MCDF has always believed the existing order strikes a perfect balance and that any changes would result in negative impacts for the Manitowish Chain, the MCDF has taken the following actions on behalf of concerned citizens.

To give the public a fair opportunity to be heard on these vital issues, we demanded that the DNR extend the deadline for the public to comment on the EA, and that the DNR conduct any hearings on its proposal in the summer so that concerned citizens could attend.  The DNR honored both requests.

Our experts surveyed shoreline structures on the Chain.  The survey showed 1) There are 1,226 parcels on the Chain; 2) There are 1,022 permanent piers on the Chain which are not designed to be removed from the water each year (the DNR had identified zero); 3) there are 173 mobile piers on the Chain which can be removed from the water each year (the DNR had identified zero); 4) there are 65 dry boathouses on the Chain above the OHWM; 5) there are 126 wet boathouses on the Chain below the OHWM (the DNR had only identified 78); 6) there are 349 concrete seawalls, 379 stone/riprap seawalls, and 64 wood seawalls on the Chain (the DNR had identified zero); and 7) 790 of the 1,226 parcels on the Chain (65%) have some form of shore protection.

We surveyed all property owners on the Chain, and 304 of the 305 respondents opposed any change to the operating order.  Those respondents reported they have invested $2.2 Million in 460 piers ($4,782 per pier); $2.8 Million in 318 boat lifts and 45 boathouses; and over $1 Million in nearly 29,000 feet of seawall and/or riprap, for a total of over 5.3 miles of hard armoring on the shore.

Our experts scrutinized the DNR’s analysis of water levels and flows on the Chain.  They concluded 1) the DNR has grossly exaggerated its claim that Xcel Energy has routinely violated the existing order and reduced flows at the dam to the minimum flow (which misleads the public regarding the need for a new order), 2) the existing order results in normal flows being passed over the dam except in the months of May and October, and 3) if the DNR’s preferred alternative is implemented, it would result in higher winter water levels that would threaten property owners with $2.5 to $20 million in costs to protect their existing structures, depending on what the DNR decides to do.

In February 2013, MCDF representatives met with Senator Tiffany, Senator Darling, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, DNR Executive Assistant Scott Gunderson, and other DNR representatives.  During the meeting, DNR officials stated that they were operating on the understanding that the public’s only concern with a new order for the Chain was that a new order preserve traditional summer levels.  We told them in no uncertain terms that equally important concern is that no property damage be caused by a new order.  Incredibly, although the DNR has studied the Chain for 10 years, the DNR officials had no idea that higher water levels in the winter could cause vast property damage.

We are now having our experts scrutinize the DNR’s proposed order to determine exactly how it will impact water levels. Based upon their preliminary work, our experts believe the higher winter water level proposed by the DNR is likely to cause damage to 92.6% of all stationary piers on the chain, 86.6% of all wet boathouses, and 59.1% of all boathouses wet or dry!

The DNR is Trying to Fix Something that Isn’t Broken

In proposing modifications to the operating order, the DNR is attempting to fix something that isn’t broken.  There has never been a public outcry for change.  Instead, the public has expressed its opposition to change for the past 10 years.

Undaunted by public opinion, the DNR is now proposing to make drastic changes to the operating order, where water levels would rise by 30 inches in the winter and regularly fall below established levels during the summer months.  The DNR suggests these changes would have significant environmental benefits and few impacts on property owners and the Chain from its proposal, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The Manitowish Chain is unique.  No other chain has been managed to maintain such consistent water levels in the summer months for such a long period of time.  No other chain has had a 42-inch winter drawdown every year for the past 100-plus years.  And, most importantly, since no other chain has had such a consistent drawdown, no other chain has been developed with so many permanent piers and shoreline protection structures on riparian properties.

Because the Manitowish Chain is so unique, the vast majority of property owners on the Chain are being threatened with a double whammy by the DNR’s proposed changes.  In the summer, the proposal would result in lower water levels on a more frequent basis, negatively impacting navigability for all.  And, in the winter, the proposal would result in higher water levels that would likely cause millions of dollars in property damage to shoreline structures such as piers, boathouses, riprap, seawalls, etc.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the DNR’s approach is that although local citizens repeatedly asked the DNR to explain why changes are necessary in the first place, the Environmental Assessment issued by the DNR in 2013 failed to provide any good reason for making changes to the operating order.  With the release of the DNR’s proposed order, that frustration has only deepened, because the DNR’s newly-proposed order sets forth an alternative the DNR did not identify, consider, or evaluate when it issued its EA.  Because the newly-proposed order is drastically different from anything discussed in the EA, the DNR has largely denied the public a fair opportunity to comment on the proposed order and how it will affect them.

The law does not allow the DNR to experiment with an operating order just because the DNR feels like it. Instead, the law requires the DNR to make reasonably informed judgments as to why changes are necessary and to fully identify and evaluate the consequences of any changes before changes are made so that the public may have meaningful input in the process.

The DNR is Inviting Public Comment Regarding Its Proposal – Do Not Allow the DNR to Make This Decision Without Making Your Own Voice Heard!

The DNR is holding two public informational meetings regarding the draft order on June 27, 2014, at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Manitowish Waters Town Hall.  At the MCDF’s request, the DNR is also planning an additional set of meetings on another date in August TBD.

These meetings will involve a DNR presentation followed by public comment.  We urge concerned citizens to submit their commentary on the proposed order to the DNR, either in writing or in person, either before or during the upcoming public meetings .We also urge concerned citizens to contact their elected officials about their concerns immediately.

Concerned citizens who wish to submit comments in writing should submit their written comments, by email or mail, to: [email protected]  and/or DNR Service Center / 2501 Golf Course Road / Ashland, WI 54806.

We know that any change to the operating order is going to affect the Chain for generations to come.  The public is finally going to have its opportunity to make its voice heard in the DNR’s process.  We urge you to attend our open house and the DNR’s hearings in August. Be prepared, be effective, and be sure that your voice is heard!
For more information, visit our website at

Duffy Dillon | Attorney
Brennan Steil S.C.
1 E. Milwaukee St.
Janesville, WI 53545

Direct: 608.743.2940
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