1. Where do I get a permit application?

Answer – The ESD can send on to you by mail, e-mail, or fax, or you can come into the office and fill one out.

2. What is the setback from the lake?

Answer – The setback depends upon which lake or river you are on. For information on the setback for the property in question, call the ESD office.

3. What is the setback from a road?

Answer – Twenty (20’) feet from the edge of a platted public or township road right-of-way; Fifty (50’) feet from a county, state or federal road right-of-way.

4. What is the setback from my property line?

Answer – Ten (10’) feet.

5. Is my lot big enough to build on?

Answer – Call the ESD office (218-547-7241) to make an appointment to meet with an inspector to make the determination.

6. Can I talk to an Inspector on Building Codes?

Answer – Cass County has not adopted the Uniform Building Code; therefore Cass County does not administer local building codes.

7. How do I get in touch with an Electrical Inspector?

Answer – Call the State Board of Electricity (651-284-5064) Their web site address is:

8. Who should I call for land use information?

Answer – Call the ESD office to speak to a staff member (218-547-7241).

9. Where do I get a burning permit?

Answer – If you live within the National Forest Boundary, call the US Forest Service – Walker area (218-547-1044). If you live in other areas of the county, call the local Minnesota DNR Forestry office, or local fire warden.

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

Answer – A Shoreland Alteration permit is required from the Cass County Environmental Services Department (ESD) for any proposed project within the building setback area 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.

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

Answer – The front half of the building setback area is called the Shore Impact Zone 1. Within this area you can remove any dead or down trees (not from chainsaw disease), maintain a 14 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. 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 (Shore Impact Zone 2), you can remove all shrubs and up to 25% of trees over 4 inches in diameter in a random pattern.

12. 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?

Answer – 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 “Landscaping for Wildlife and Water Quality”.

13. I have a wetland between my building site and the lake. May I fill it?

Answer – Behind the setback, no wetland filling is allowed in the building setback area, boardwalks may be used to gain access. The Minnesota Wetland 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. The Act also does not allow filling for the purpose of creating lawn. On lakes 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.

14. My lot has an ice ridge in front. May I flatten it out?

Answer – If the ice ridge was pushed up the previous winter, there is a Shoreland Alteration Permit administered by the Cass ESD available 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 14 feet. This ridge also serves an important function to keep runoff from flushing nutrients into the lake.

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

Answer – 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. ESD will be glad to assist you in determining whether a bluff exists on your property.

16. May I fix up my old boathouse down by the lake?

Answer –
  • There shall be no increase in size or aerial coverage;
  • The boathouse shall not exceed ten feet in height, including a minimum 4:12 pitch roof;
  • The boathouse shall be treated to reduce visibility as viewed from Public waters and adjacent shorelands by vegetation, topography, or color, assuming summer, leaf – on conditions.
  • The structure shall not be used for human habitation.
  • The structure shall not include water supply or sewage treatment facilities.

17. May I place a gazebo down by the lake?

Answer – Other than maintenance of existing structure 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 150 square feet or less in size, and have no railings.

18. May I add sand to my beach or create a beach?

Answer – A one time addition of 10 cubic yard 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.

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

Answer – Call!!! (218-547-7241). 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 a world of heartache later on.