Otter Tail commissioners discuss surface water ordinance

Despite complaints, no surface water ordinance was passed this week by Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners.

The Otter Tail County courthouse.
The Otter Tail County courthouse.

Lake recreation became a topic of general discussion at Tuesday’s, July 14, Otter Tail County Board of Commissioner’s meeting. The board discussed issues that were occurring on a lake in front of a constituent’s home.

The Sheriff’s Office has responded to complaints of gatherings of many boats on popular sand bars across several lakes in Otter Tail County. The discussion of a future ordinance was sent to the Public Works Committee for further review this fall.

The typical complaint is loud music and underage drinking but several people also said, on some occasions like the Fourth of July weekend, lake property owners could not get their boats off their docks because of so much boat traffic or uninvited boats tied to their docks.

“We have seen a three-fold number of complaints already this year,” said Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons. “It is public water but if their music is loud, or minors are drinking, this can be enforced. Ninety percent are following the rules while 10 percent are causing the issues.”

Currently, in Otter Tail County there is no surface water ordinance. A ‘No Wake Zone’ has been approved by the Department of Natural Resources and the county board for a set time on Spitzer Lake. However, the only county ordinance governing lakes currently is the dock ordinance. The penalties that may be enforced at this time is ticketing for violating the noise ordinance or underage drinking.


Many other counties and cities have extensive surface water ordinances and policies. Otter Tail County Commissioners agreed that there needs to be a balance. “I understand the concerns, but it is public water, so it is a balancing act,” stated Commissioner Wayne Johnson said. After discussion by commissioners and input from County Attorney Michelle Eldien and County Administrator Nicole Hansen, it was decided to move the discussion to the Public Works Committee.

“We can talk with lake associations and the DNR as resources,” noted Hansen. “There is a balance we can find.” No surface water ordinance was passed at this meeting.

Future meeting dates and agendas are available at .

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