Legislation to exempt event center from St. Croix River regulations stalls

There aren’t enough votes to move Wisconsin Senate bill, but new efforts are advancing in the state to curtail local control and remove river protections.




2 minute read

Lodge on the Croix is perched on a bluff overlooking the river across from Marine on St. Croix.

A controversial bill that would have let the new owners of a former summer camp on the St. Croix operate a wedding and event center despite an easement and riverway rules appears to be dead.

But, while the “Lodge on Croix” legislation has languished, new efforts are underway to open up loopholes in St. Croix River protections.

Sponsor Shiela Harsdorf, a Republican senator from River Falls, recently told the Osceola Sun her bill does not have enough votes to get out of committee.

“I don’t expect the Senate bill to move,” she said.

Looking for a loophole

Companion legislation in the Assembly, sponsored by Balsam Lake Republican Adam Jarchow, was passed by a committee in August but cannot move forward without a Senate version.

The legislation would have prevented the state or county from enforcing regulations that “prohibit the operation of an event facility and lodging establishment …. on a property located wholly or partially within the Lower St. Croix riverway that was historically used as a recreational campground.”

At an August Senate hearing, local citizens and elected officials decried the bill as an attempt to carve out a loophole for one property-owner.

During a few preliminary events hosted at the location before the owners ran into legal problems due to operating the site without any permits and in conflict with laws and the easements, neighbors said the noise was “deafening” and could be heard several miles down the river.

The elected boards of St. Croix County and the town of Somerset all express opposition, saying the bills would reward the property-owners for breaking the rules.

New attempt to erode protections

The issue of managing development on the Lower St. Croix is not over yet, though. Sen. Harsdorf is not involved with new bills trying to block local control of riverway regulations, but Rep. Jarchow continues to lead the effort.

Jarchow and Sen. Thomas Tiffany of northeastern Wisconsin have introduced legislation (SB 379 / AB 479) that would essentially reverse last summer’s pro-river Supreme Court ruling in the Murr vs. State of Wisconsin case.

The bills would prevent local governments from stopping construction of new buildings on lots that are not big enough or otherwise deemed inappropriate for development along the river and other waterbodies.

While the legislation wouldn’t cover Lodge on Croix, it would allow people like the Murrs, who own a “substandard lot” on the river near Hudson, to sell the land for a new cabin or house. The bill has already been approved by a Senate committee and been heard in an Assembly committee — stay tuned for more information.