Prominent marina excavated Okoboji lake without permit

By: - June 20, 2022 3:33 pm

The lakes of Okoboji are a popular summer destination in northwest Iowa. (Photo courtesy of David Thoreson)

Parks Marina, a staple of East Okoboji Lake in northwest Iowa, removed lake bed sediment last year near its boat forklift station without a permit — a repeat offense, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The marina was recently fined $5,000 for the infraction but was granted an “after-the-fact permit” to approve the excavation, DNR documents show.

The forklift station itself was constructed without a permit at least nine years ago, the documents show. It is located along the lake’s shoreline where marina workers can retrieve and launch boats using a forklift. People pay the marina to store their boats in a large building where they are stacked on steel racks. It’s a quicker in-and-out process than using a typical boat ramp.

“That’s kind of his main thing he’s known for is that boat storage, to move the boats out like that,” Seth Moore, the DNR’s sovereign lands construction permit coordinator, said of the marina’s owner, Leo “Butch” Parks, Jr.

Parks also owns a marina on West Okoboji Lake and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, according to the marina’s website. Parks did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this article.

“He’s been told multiple times to apply for a permit,” Moore said. “In my opinion, we’ve worked with him quite a bit and have been lenient on him. Eventually, field staff and everybody involved with the permitting, we just kind of reached the point where we felt a fine was needed since he’s been told multiple times — he and his staff — that you need a permit before you do that kind of work.”

Multiple people reported to the DNR in March 2021 that a large excavator was digging material from East Okoboji Lake near the marina, DNR documents show. A subsequent investigation confirmed the work was underway, and Parks told a DNR officer he was unaware of a permit requirement. He also said he planned to add another forklift ramp, Moore said. That requires a permit as well.

A recent agreement with the DNR — in which Parks agreed to pay the $5,000 fine — said the marina had obtained a permit in 2012 to dredge sediment near a boat ramp, a similar project to the one in 2021. The work is meant to increase the depth of the lake near the shoreline. However, that area of the lake is public property and requires state permission for modification.

DNR documents show that the marina applied for a permit in 2013 to install three new boat ramps and was subsequently denied. In the meantime, a DNR on-site review for the permit revealed the initial forklift station had been built without a permit, and that a portion of the shoreline had been extended into the lake — also without a permit — to accommodate a motorcycle parking lot.

At the time, Parks told the DNR that no additional sediment had been placed along the shoreline for the lot, but aerial photos that had been taken of the area proved otherwise, DNR documents show. The marina was issued a violation notice and removed the additional sediment.

The marina also successfully applied for permits for new boat docks and a ramp in 2017 and 2018.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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