Judge rules DNR owns lakefront site
By Nicholas Penzenstadler of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: July 29, 2009
For 44 years, Gerald Wied and his family have enjoyed fishing, snowmobiling and hunting at their log cabin in northeastern Wisconsin. They paid taxes on the land, considered it their own.
But this week, Marinette County Circuit Judge David G. Miron ruled the 4-acre parcel on Lake Noquebay belongs to the Department of Natural Resources.
The Green Bay family can't vacation there anymore.
Although the land had been in the family since 1965, a county assessor in 2003 discovered they did not own a 700-foot stretch of land where their cabin rests. The state actually owns it.
Two years ago, the DNR filed a lawsuit that ended Tuesday with the order that declared the land belonged to the state.
The twist: Had the family bought the land a few years earlier, the state would not have a claim to it today.
"This isn't about who's right, it's about what's right," Wied said, adding that they will appeal the decision.
Here's what happened:
In 1998, the Legislature changed a real estate law that had stated that if people possessed any disputed land, uninterrupted, for more than 40 years, it was legally theirs.
The Wieds argued that because they bought the land in 1965, and have occupied it for 44 years, it should be theirs.
However, the judge denied that defense, ruling the law applies only until 1998. Therefore, they would have had to have purchased the land before 1958.
Officials with the DNR argued in court documents that by building the cabin, the family "destroyed the natural state of the lands."
Cabin must go
The agency plans to restore the land to its natural state, requiring the Wieds to move or demolish the cabin, cap their well and remove two sanitation tanks.
Tom Turner, spokesman for the DNR, said the dispute is out of their hands and would not speculate on many details of the case.
"We're letting the court speak for us," Turner said. "There were a lot of differences of opinion that went into the courtroom on both sides."
Wied said the DNR has been bullying him for years since officials discovered the valuable land was theirs.
"The DNR is a big government agency that doesn't have anyone to answer to," Wied said.
Wied is angry, in part, over the thousands of dollars in property taxes he has paid over the years for land he now doesn't own.
John Lefebvre, a zoning administrator with the county, said because the Wieds enjoyed the land and cabin, they were correctly charged taxes. Lefebvre pointed out that Wied owns an additional 180 feet of lakefront property that will not be taken by the DNR.
Wied's attorney, David Herrick, said the DNR targeted the high-value land and refused to negotiate with the family.
"If this would have been a 500-foot parcel at an end of the Nicolet National Forest, it wouldn't have been such an issue."
'Part of our history'
Wied is especially upset that the land won't remain in the family.
His father bought the property near Crivitz in 1965. The large family pitched in to make improvements on an existing cabin, then built a new log cabin on the lakefront in 1985.
Wied bought the land, and his own children and grandchildren have enjoyed summers on the lake.
"It's bigger than wood and concrete, it's part of our history and part of our family," Wied said.