LIFE on the Lakes: A permanent improvement

Many of our reader questions this 2021 season have been on the topic of seasonal docks. As seasonal docks on Michigan’s inland lakes, when used for single family, non-commercial, residential purposes, they typically do not require state-level permitting and there is a fair amount of homeowner discretion (and questions) as to seasonal dock location and placement.

One need only take a casual look around most inland lakes to determine that the majority of docks in use are seasonal. There are many benefits to permanent docks for some homeowners, and the process for permitting a permanent dock can be navigated with little difficulty.

Docks (also referred to as “Piers” in some contexts in state statutes and literature) are considered “Minor Projects” in the state permitting system, which means the Water Resources Division (WRD) can review individual applications without the delay of the applicant having to provide public notice of their specific project (this is both a time and cost savings to the applicant.)

There are four separate categories of “dock” under the Minor Projects category for docks as defined by EGLE: Piers; Broadside Docks; Kayak Docks; and Docks on Public Land. Kayak Docks (a specific category for a certain kind of public dock) and Docks on Public Land, in general, do not apply to our readers. The dock most homeowners apply for is the Pier, which is defined as “a linear single pier with no perpendicular extensions.”

In order to streamline your minor project application, the proposed dock should be for single family, recreational use, and should be the only dock on the applicant’s property. Most docks should be single, linear structures, but some perpendicular extension may be allowed after EGLE review. The proposed dock should be centered on the waterfront portion of the applicant’s property, or, located at least one-a-half times the length of the proposed dock from the adjacent boundary lines of the property. The proposed dock should be designed to allow water to freely flow through it, and so as to not be a hazard and impede navigation of the waterway. There is no hard and fast rule to how long a permanent dock can be, but a dock is limited to four feet in width. Length wise, the structure shall be of reasonable length to boatable water or at a length from the shoreline that is not greater than the length of similar structures in the vicinity and on the waterbody, whichever is the minimum necessary.

The applicant will need to submit three drawings along with their application: a site location map; an overall site plan; and a plan view and cross-section. The application fee is $100. If you have questions about the process, please do not hesitate to ask.