Rum River docks differ between communities

When an Andover couple sought a conditional use permit for a dock by their home for their canoe and kayak, they were surprised at how hard it was to get even though they see large pontoon boats floating down the Rum River all the time.

The Andover City Council had an extensive discussion before approving this private dock for canoes and kayaks along the Rum River, which sees a lot of pontoon boat traffic. Photo by Eric Hagen
The Andover City Council had an extensive discussion before approving this private dock for canoes and kayaks along the Rum River, which sees a lot of pontoon boat traffic. Photo by Eric Hagen

Since Peter Miller and Patricia Rysdam got the conditional use permit approved by the Andover City Council in late May, they have since built the dock themselves and have been able to enjoy pleasant rides on the river. The new Andover residents as of last October have met new friends who have invited them to ride on their boats.

“The river is a really friendly place,” Rysdam said. “Everybody comes by to say hi. It’s a great way to meet people.”

While they are happy to get the dock, Miller said they would have liked another middle four- by eight-foot section to make it easier to get off their canoe and kayak. They can grasp a bar to lower and raise themselves out of their watercraft, but space is tight when two people are on the floating dock.

Kate Drewry, north metro hydrologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), told the city of Andover that the dock configuration met the general DNR criteria to proceed without a DNR public waters permit such as being less than eight feet wide.

However, she said the city could impose more stringent requirements because the Rum River is designated by the state as a wild and scenic river.

“The dock structure does seem overly large” considering it was only for canoes and kayaks, Drewry said.

State statute requires cities to review conditional use permit requests for all docks in wild and scenic areas of the river, into which Andover and Ramsey fall. Docks in recreational designated areas of the Rum River such as in Anoka are permitted uses, but must still meet DNR size rules, according to Drewry.

However, Drewry said that the state statute for wild and scenic rivers addresses issues such as lot sizes, building setbacks, erosion and septic and well systems, but makes no mention of dock sizes along these rivers that the state is trying to protect from over-development.

“It’s very much on a case by case and makes it difficult for us to administer,” Drewry said.

Drewry said the DNR has tried to get the Legislature or the governor’s office to update the wild and scenic river and shoreland district statutes, which have not been updated since the 1970s and 1980s, respectively, but there has not been the political will to make changes.

These statutes should be more specific on the size of docks and number of dock slips allowed along these bodies of water the state and local communities are trying to protect, she said.

“We feel they’re badly in need of an overhaul as are the general dock approvals,” Drewry said of the DNR’s position. “Cities have taken more aggressive or passive stances depending on the politics of the time.”

Anoka and Ramsey’s docks

The Andover, Anoka and Ramsey staff members said the cities have not discussed docks along the Rum River in recent years. The big topic being discussed now seeing if the Rum River Dam can be rebuilt to stop Asian carp.

Andover Community Development Director David Carlberg suspects there are more docks on Ramsey’s side of the river because it has more homes. Andover’s side has larger rural lots along the whole stretch of the Rum River, he said.

Tim Gladhill, Ramsey’s development services manager, said this issue “is not fresh in our minds” because the docks already on the Rum River on Ramsey’s side have been there for a number of years.

Ramsey just makes sure the dock would meet the DNR rules for dock sizes, he said.

Andover City Councilmember Julie Trude was the only one to vote against the conditional use permit and not because she opposed the dock. She supported Miller and Rysdam’s original application.

“I’m concerned we’re taking away property rights,” Trude said. “They pay a premium to live along the river.”

Andover Mayor Mike Gamache questioned why the council would even consider approving a dock on the Rum River. He did not want to get into a situation where a lot of people were asking for docks.

According to Trude, a lot of large boats come from Anoka as well, so this was not just an Andover and Ramsey issue.

While Andover has not seen dock permit applications that were subsequently approved since 1985 and 1988, Anoka has three public docks and plans to improve one of them and add more docks with slips for parking watercraft as large as pontoon boats, according to Carlberg.

Most recently, the Anoka City Council approved a dock with six more boat slips for the Rum River Shores development north of Bunker Lake Boulevard.

Greg Lee, public services director, said Anoka currently has a boat landing and six boat slips that are fully rented out at Akin Riverside Park along with a fishing pier. There is a 210-foot-long dock with no slips by Anoka City Hall.

The city is currently accepting applications for six boat slips that will be added to the Riverfront Park dock just north of the Rum River Dam.

Anoka’s five-year capital improvement plan projects a fourth dock with boat slips at a Pleasant Street landing. Lee said the vision is people could dock their boats here and walk over to the Northstar Commuter Rail station.

Miller was on the planning and zoning committee in the previous town where he lived, so he knows it can be difficult to go through the process and make decisions and appreciates that the elected officials are trying to protect citizens.

Miller and Rysdam also made it very clear they have nothing against pontoon boats and have made new friends that have them. They just questioned the reasoning of the DNR and city of Andover.

“If your intent is you want the river to be wild and scenic, a pontoon boat is just as intrusive as a dock,” Miller said. “It’s effectively a floating dock.”

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]

  • Pat Walker

    I predict that as soon as the Anoka City Council gets all the government docks in place, that they will lead the charge on a moratorium to prevent additional docks.