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When Do I Need a Dock Permit?

One of the benefits of owning waterfront property in Michigan is the ability to install a dock and moor a boat. For many riparian owners, this is the most valuable and important aspect of their waterfront property. But installing a dock is not always as simple as just getting out there and doing the work. Depending on the dock, and where the property is located, there may be a need for permits. This leads many riparian owners to ask when a dock permit is needed.
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Dock permits are issued by the Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). When determining whether a dock permit is needed, EGLE personnel are typically very helpful. In general, a permit is required to install a permanent dock or boat hoist in inland lakes or streams. A permit is not required for a seasonal dock or boat hoist that is placed in an inland lake or stream and removed at the end of the boating season, if the structure is for private, noncommercial recreational use, and placement does not unreasonably interfere with the use of the water by others or interfere with water flow. Public or commercial structures require a permit.

In other words, many private docks on Michigan lakes will not require a permit from EGLE. However, the key phrase to be aware of is “does not unreasonably interfere with the use of the water by others or interfere with water flow.” In theory, you could have a seasonal dock that would still need a permit if it “unreasonably” interferes with someone else’s use of the water. As one might imagine, the interpretation of this can be somewhat subjective.

Enforcement of these provisions is mostly complaint driven, especially recently. Given the potential uncertainty in whether or not it may be necessary to go through the dock permitting process, it’s usually a good idea to maintain good relations with fellow property owners around your lake.

Do you need an attorney to obtain a dock permit? Sometimes. There are occasions when obtaining a permit will be relatively simple. But if there is neighbor opposition to a dock, or if EGLE denies the initial application, briefing and a hearing in front of an administrative law judge may be necessary. In that case, it is certainly helpful to have attorney representation.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC have extensive experience with riparian and dock permitting cases. If you feel you need attorney representation to protect your waterfront investment, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to speak with you.

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