The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Enforcement of Ellis Harbor boathouses and houseboats the job of the state DNR, City Hall concludes

In City Hall on February 17, 2009 at 6:12 pm

The Ellis Boat Harbor apparently will live on, but the City Council says it wants the owners of boathouses there to deal with the state of Iowa, not City Hall. 

If you remember, it was the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that took an interest in the semi-permanent boathouse community at the harbor after last June’s flood ransacked the harbor and sent some of the houses down the Cedar River and into a railroad bridge. 

The DNR, which has jurisdiction of the river, suddenly was paying attention to the Ellis Harbor community as it had not done before the flood. The state agency declared that the boathouses were illegal. It said Iowa law does not allow such structures with sides and roofs on Iowa waters. 

In the intervening months, though, the DNR, city officials, representatives of the boathouse community and others have met to address the future of the Ellis Boat Harbor.

On Tuesday, Jeff Kraayenbrink, of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, explained that the DNR has agreed to allow each owner of a boathouse in the Ellis Boat Harbor to seek a variance from state regulations so the owner can keep the house in the harbor. The variances, though, require homes to follow state law on the disposal of wastewater and other matters. 

Kraayenbrink asked the City Council if it wanted to have the houses obtain Class II dock permits or Class III dock permits. The first required the city to be more heavily involved in the permitting and enforcement of the houses, and the second option leaves all the work to the state.

A council majority indicated that it favored the Class III dock permits so that boathouse owners deal directly with the state on variances, wastewater disposal and code enforcement. 

Bill Wright, an assistant city attorney, said the city opened itself up to fines and other liability for boathouse violations if they played a more central role in the permitting and enforcement.

Those with houseboats — the ones that can move in the river — also must work with the state in obtaining a permit and disposing of waste. 

The city will continue to lease the shoreline for the harbor.

The city’s Riverfront Commission favors the Class II permit. The commission feels more city involvement would give the City Council a chance to show its support for the harbor, council member Chuck Wieneke, who attended many of the meetings with the DNR, told the council. 

On the other hand, the DNR prefers the Class III permit so it could deal directly with the boathouse owners. The city attorney and city manager also support the Class III option. 

Council member Tom Podzimek on Tuesday said he didn’t see why two layers of government needed to be involved along a river that the DNR has responsibility for.

Under the new arrangement, the tenant will have responsibility for disposing of waste. 

One houseboat owner at Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern about the disposal of waste. Now, the city has had a container at the harbor for owners to dispose of waste, and without that, he worried more waste would end up in the river.

Kraayenbrink said about 70 boat houses remain in the harbor, down from about 130 before the flood. 

The city is awaiting a determination of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the amount of flood damage to the harbor before the city readies it for use again and before Alliant Energy restores electricity to it.

One point that harbor residents are fighting the DNR on is a decision by the state agency not to allow the transfer of leases for boathouses. Owners are appealing that decision.

  1. The DNR did not suddenly take interest in the Ellis Boatharbor until the Cedar Rapids Parks department asked them to. As to the laws the DNR states the Ellis boathouses are not in compliance to are Administrative Rules that were adopted Feburary 08,2007 and became effective April 4,2007. In those rules ( It states in paragraph 10 of their openiong page(Most lawfully permitted existing docks are grandfathered under the new rules. Also in the rules section 16.3 (6)winter removal (7)roofs and sides they can be allowed exceptions per sections 16.9.1 and 16.10.2 items d,e,f. It appears the DNR is not aware of their own Administrative Rules or feels they are required to only follow the portion they want to.

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