Rock County Board sets countywide slow/no wake levels

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Friday, January 13, 2012
— The Rock County Board approved a countywide slow/no wake standard that holds the line on criteria for setting slow/no wake orders on the Rock River.

The move came Thursday after months of public debate, county board committee discussion and a public hearing on the issue.

The vote was unanimous. It means a countywide slow/no wake standard will be set at 7.5 feet in the north part of the Rock River and at 6.5 feet in the south part, with the dividing line at the Indianford dam.

The ordinance is essentially the status quo for townships in the county, which in the past have been in charge of requesting slow/no wake orders. The difference now is that slow/no wake will be controlled by a countywide standard.

The orders will continue to be enforced by the Rock County Sheriff's Office. People will now be able to access gauge readings online at the Rock County and Rock County Sheriff's Office websites, county officials say.

The rule will create an objective standard for the entire county that protects shore areas along the river and takes into account the rights of residents and people who use the river for recreation, supporters say.

Not everyone has agreed. Rock-Koshkonong Lake District officials have argued the standard would be too restrictive on boating tourism on the river.

The lake district for months has pressed the county for a standard that would relax slow/no wake to flood action stage, which is nine feet near Newville. The lake district and business leaders in the lake area said that would bolster boating in the late spring and early summer, when the river tends to be swollen from spring rains.

At a Dec. 15 county board public hearing, the lake district urged the board for a compromise on slow/no wake, offering to split the difference between 7.5 feet and 9 feet.

Some residents have opposed the lake district's proposals, arguing that boats cruising in waters higher than 7.5 feet would damage shore property and add to shore erosion.

Board member Mary Mawhinney said she didn't realize what little buffer some properties on the river have against floods and wave action until she took a boat ride with residents last year.

"It's amazing how low it (the property) is," she said.

Board members have had a flood of testimony and feedback from residents over the county's slow/no wake standard, including business owners who are concerned about the effect on tourism.

"This might affect tourism. I don't know the answer to that," said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra Kraft, an Edgerton resident and a supporter of the new county rule.

Kraft suggested that if the lake district wants to continue pursuing a relaxed slow/no wake standard, it could create a low-interest loan program to build up shorelines at low-lying properties along the river.

The board on Thursday also unanimously approved an amendment to the new ordinance that will allow the city of Janesville or other municipalities to approve special events on the river during slow/no wake periods, provided water conditions are safe.

Officials said the move is intended to benefit the Rock Aqua Jays, a water ski show team that hosts summer shows on a section of the Rock River near downtown Janesville.

Last updated: 7:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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