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County cabin quarrel seems near an end

After a year-long dispute over state code compliance, three camping cabins at Pierce County's Nugget Lake Park may be available to the public yet this summer.

An understanding has been reached with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce about the work needed to bring the cabins into line with Wisconsin's Uniform Dwelling Code, said Park Committee Chairman Mel Pittman. He said the cost of making the corrections seems to be "minor."

Pittman said the county received confirmation from the Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) Friday that the cabins are portable and they can be licensed under Nugget Lake's exiting campground license.

Corporation Counsel Brad Lawrence said, from a layman's perspective, it appears the corrections won't be expensive, but no cost estimates have been sought.

Some of the modifications include cable to anchor a cabin, log screws and plates on the roof, electrical work, tread on ramps and putting refrigerators on a separate current.

Lawrence said the Park Committee postponed work until it received documentation from the DHFS regarding its position on the campground license.

He said the cabins were rented regularly before they were closed a year ago.

"We've got a waiting list of approximately 75 people to get into them," said Park Superintendent Scott Schoepp Friday. While the park also has camping sites, the trend is toward cabin camping, he said.

"We all want something nice. We don't want to rough it anymore," said Schoepp.

Last summer, building inspectors closed the cabins to public use, saying they didn't meet standards in the UDC.

Darren Edwards, who is building inspector for the Town of Union where the park is located, said a brief inspection found "numerous safety and health-related code violations."

The Department of Commerce asked the county to pay inspection fees, obtain plan approval and have the foundation, structure, exits, insulation and electric wiring inspected and brought up to code, if necessary.

The county challenged the Department of Commerce decisions, arguing the cabins aren't "dwellings" under UDC because they are occupied only temporarily and are movable.

In a decision issued in May, Pierce County Judge Robert Wing rejected the county's arguments, finding the cabins indeed fit the department's definition of "dwelling."

"The cabins...are clearly places where people sleep overnight and those places are not open to anyone other than the people who pay the fee to sleep there," wrote the judge. "The people who sleep there are not strangers to one another, but are clearly related by blood or social ties for the purpose of camping, which brings them to sleep overnight in the cabins."

The first cabin was built in 2004. Two more cabins were built in 2006 and opened to the public in 2007.

When the county board authorized spending $15,400 from the county park fund to build the second cabin, Schoepp estimated the unit would pay for itself in three years.

Last year, the cost for renting a park cabin was $40 per night, but all park fees were raised this year. The current charge is $45 per night for a cabin. The park also charges a $5 per vehicle per day entrance fee or $25 for an annual park-use permit.

The Nugget Lake Park, on the eastern side of the county near Plum City, has a 55-site campground with electrical hook-ups on 42 sites, hiking and cross country skiing trails, a swimming beach, boat ramp and dock and picnic area.