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FAQs about Shorelines

Q Do I need a permit to do projects near the lake?

A A Shoreland Alteration Permit in required from the Cass County Environmental Services Department (ESD) for any proposed project within the building setback area (100 feet for Barnum Lake), including vegetation removal, access paths, stairways, platforms, retaining walls, removal of spoil material from harbors, or ice ridge alterations. Shoreland Alteration or Conditional use permits are also required for the movement of soil, depending on quantities.

Q I just bought an undeveloped lot. How much vegetation can I remove so I can see the lake?

A The front half (back 50 feet on Barnum) of the building setback area is called the shore impact zone. Within this area you can remove any dead or down trees (not from chainsaw disease), maintain a 12 foot wide access path with a permit as per #1 above, and limb living trees to improve your view. Other than that, all living shrubs and trees must remain in place. The only exception to this is in some situations with flat lots, some vegetative replacement is permitted on a case-by-case basis. This vegetated strip is critical to lake water quality preservation. It reduces runoff by 30-40% and traps sediment and nutrients.
In the back half of the setback, you can remove all shrubs and up to 25% of trees over 4inches in diameter in a random pattern.

Q My lot already has lawn down to the lake. The front part is steep and hard to mow. Is there something I could do with this area?

A Planting a vegetated buffer area! This will enhance the beauty of your lot and help preserve lake water quality. Environmental Services has a wealth of information including a plant list for Cass County and excellent publications like DNR's new "Landscaping for Wildlife and Water Quality". Volunteer "Master Gardeners" are available free of charge through the Cass County Extension Service (547-7392) to assist in designing a buffer area.

Q I have a wetland between my building site and the lake. Can I fill it?

A The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act requires a process called "sequencing" whenever a proposed project is reviewed. This required that all possible measures be taken to avoid any wetland impacts before filling is allowed. If a boardwalk to gain lake access will work, no filling is allowed. The Act also does not allow filling for the purpose of creating lawn. On lakes like Barnum without a public access, it may be possible to do some filling for boat launching purposes after completing a wetland replacement plan and mitigating the wetland loss either through actual wetland restoration or buying credits from a wetland bank.

Q My lot has an ice ridge in front. Can I flatten it out?

A If the ice ridge was pushed up the previous winter, there is a special DNR permit administered by the Cass ESD available free of charge which allows restoration of the shoreline. This must be done every year there is damage. Check with ESD for details. If the ice ridge is well established or "historic" and has woody vegetation growing on it, the maximum allowable width for an alteration is 12 feet. This ridge also serves an important function to keep runoff from flushing nutrients into the lake.

Q What is a bluff and how does it effect building on my lot?

A A bluff is a very steep hill facing the lake that is 25 feet or greater in height above the lake and has a 30% or greater slope. Because these areas are fragile and highly erodible, they are afforded greater protection under the shoreland standards. No vegetative clearing is allowed in a bluff area except pruning to afford a view. There is also a building setback from a bluff of 30 feet (5 feet with an engineered building and erosion control plan). ESD will be glad to assist you in determining whether a bluff exists on your property.

Q Can I fix up my old boathouse down by the lake?

A Existing boathouses can be repaired or replaced with a permit provided that there is no increase in size, they do not exceed 10 feet in height including a minimum 4:12 pitch roof, that they are treated to reduce visibility from the lake, and that they are NOT used for human habitation.

Q Can I place a gazebo down by the lake?

A Other than maintenance of existing structures and at-grade platforms, all new structures including fences must meet the building setback. Platforms are allowed with a permit at a 10 foot lake setback provided that they are no more than one foot in or out of the ground, are 100 square feet or less in size, and have no railings.

Q Can I add sand to my beach or create a beach?

A A one time addition of 10 cubic yards of sand is allowed with a permit above the ordinary high watermark (OHW) of the lake. Below the OHW, the DNR has a special permit for sand addition. A note on beaches-if you don't have one now, chances are that adding sand to a mucky area is not going to work. In addition, you could be destroying habitat that is valuable to fish and other aquatic life. You may also stimulate the growth of a whole new crop of vegetation. You are better off leaving it alone.

Q What is the single smartest thing I can do before I start a project near the shoreline?

A CALL! The ESD staff is always ready and willing to answer your questions and/or visit your site. We have many fact sheets on ordinance regulation and other valuable information. A call in the beginning can save heartaches later!

© Cass County, MN, 2014