A new wooden stairway on a steep bank of a cove at Marion County Lake has led to controversy between a developer and county commissioners over what will lie at its end — a dock, or nothing.
“It sounds like it’s going to be a walkway to nowhere,” Garry Dunnegan said.
When Dunnegan set about transforming 34A Lakeshore Dr. from a tiny, mundane lake cabin to a showcase house, plans included a dock connected to a deck.
An existing dock, 18 feet by 10 feet, was moved and a stairway built to give neighbor Les Greenemeyer and his grandchildren access to the cove, Dunnegan said.
“They’re living on the lake but they couldn’t get to the cove, and I thought it would be nice for him,” Dunnegan said. “To me it’s just a little dock, and we spent several thousand dollars building a walkway and a set of stairs for his family to get down there.”
However, to Lake Superintendent Steve Hudson and commissioners, it’s a violation of a lake regulation that allows just one dock per property.
Commissioners created the restriction about six years ago when they placed a moratorium on new dock construction, Hudson said.
“The opinion of the commission at that time was that they didn’t want this to become like Table Rock Lake and have docks all around the lake,” he said.
Dunnegan relied on the advice of another cove property owner who told him, he said, that the cove was considered private property.
While the county owns everything inside Lakeshore Dr., portions of the three coves north of the road are included in the property of about a dozen homeowners. That includes Garry and Dania Crawford’s property at 34A Lakeshore Dr.
“It’s a private cove,” Dunnegan said. “Those people own the ground under the water. On that particular cove, the Crawfords’ property goes clear across the water. I probably should have consulted Steve, but I didn’t.”
However, Commissioner Dan Holub said that Dunnegan built the second dock after being told it wasn’t allowed.
“They went ahead anyway; it’s pretty much an in-your-face,” he said. “What do you do? We’re going to have to address it. If one gets outside the rules, you get outside the justification of enforcing the rules anywhere else.”
Lake regulations don’t include a procedure for requesting a variance, Holub said, but commissioners once granted an exception.
They allowed an enclosed dock to be built on the main lake, with the provision that it could be used by the public when the owner wasn’t using it, Holub said.
“So we did make an exception and we got burned for it,” he said. “The access to the water was on the land side.”
Holub supported his claim that dock restrictions apply in the coves north of Lakeshore Dr. by referring to a ruling from Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism that said they would enforce fishing regulations there just as they would on the rest of the lake, rather than as private property.
“It’s not treated as a farm pond,” Holub said. “The state looks at it as a continuous part of the lake, so we were treating it as county lake, county water, county rules.”
Dunnegan noted that the two docks together would be just over half as large as the 625 square feet allowed in lake regulations for one dock.
“I don’t know legally who’s right, and I don’t think the county attorney knows,” he said.
Susan Robson’s preliminary opinion was that lake regulations apply to the coves, but she said she’s asked the state for a formal ruling.
“I want to clarify exactly what the lake owns,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re all on the same page before we do anything.”
Dunnegan said he hopes the dock can stay.
“I kind of feel bad for Les because I gave him a walkway,” he said. “It’s about a family and whether you want their grandkids to walk down to the lake. I kind of hope they don’t make us move it out.”
Holub had a different opinion.
“They were told no, and I have no sympathy if they have to remove it,” he said.