“I’m Glad You Asked . . .” The Top-5 Questions People Ask the Marathon County CONSERVATION, PLANNING, & ZONING DEPARTMENT

Written by Rebecca Frisch

Did you ever have a teacher say:

“If one student in this room asks me a question, probably several others have the very same question”?

Well, with this new series — “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” — we’re bringing the questions to YOU, no hand-raising required.

It’s part of our commitment to be open, honest, and communicative about the topics that Marathon County leadership and staff get comments and questions on the most.

This month’s “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” article features:

The Top-5 Questions People Ask the Marathon County CONSERVATION, PLANNING, & ZONING DEPARTMENT


The Conservation, Planning and Zoning (CPZ) Department represents a merger of what had been 3 standalone departments until May of 2003. Now there is 1 department with a common commitment to protecting the County’s land and water resources and planning for a better future consistent with the County’s aspirations with regard to health, safety, and prosperity. Within CPZ, there are now 4 areas of service:

  1. Conservation— Provides services that implement the Land and Water Resource Plan.
  2. Planning— Includes a comprehensive plan, sewer service plan, storm water plan, hazard mitigation plan, and census redistricting.
  3. Geo Services— Manages the Geographic Information Services and implemented the Uniform Addressing project.
  4. Zoning and Regulatory Services— Administer land use regulations like county zoning, mining, subdivision, private septic systems, and other ordinances.

That being said, here are some of their department’s top queries . . .

#1. The County has some sophisticated MAP MAKING abilities — Can I get a map of my property or community?


Marathon County has an online mapping app that encompasses countywide map layers. Here are just a few uses . . .

  • If you’re planning on moving to the area and want to know the school district that a house or property is located in, we have that app.
  • If you’re a farmer and want to calculate your field acres, we’ve got that.
  • If you’re an outdoors person wanting an aerial image for your next tree stand location, we have you covered.

The CPZ Department also has some premade online maps (roads, lakes, bike routes, senate districts, and much more) posted to our Online Maps webpage that you can download.


You can also get paper maps for communities pertaining to street names and addresses by contacting the CPZ Department at 715-261-6000 or stopping by our offices at 210 River Drive in Wausau.

We invite you to take a look at our Land Information Mapping System app to discover all the different options Marathon County online mapping has to offer. You’re just a click away!

#2. Given the hassle involved in changing my home address, how will UNIFORM ADDRESSING benefit me or my neighbors?


Uniform Addressing was a large-scale public safety project that affected many Marathon County residents throughout 2018. So far, about 15,000 properties have been re-addressed, with over 5,000 properties remaining to be changed in 2019 (after the ground thaws and new address signs can be pounded in). 

Although residents have been inconvenienced by having to change their home address for all their personal IDs, correspondence, and accounts, there’s a good reason this project was completed throughout various towns and villages in Marathon County:

In an emergency, seconds matter!

Duplicate addresses, roads with the same or similar names, numbering that is not sequential, or odd and even numbers on the same side of the road can cause Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel to lose precious time searching for an address because of confusing numbering or hard-to-read address signs. Such delays can result in the loss of property — and even lives.

Therefore, as a matter of public safety, Marathon County eliminated its 10 patchwork address grids and implemented a single-grid Uniform Addressing system to help in providing timely 911 emergency services for all of the County’s 62 cities, villages, and towns.

MarathonCountyNewUniformAddressGrid - As of 4-11-2017

Marathon County was 1 of only 4 counties remaining in Wisconsin without a Uniform Addressing system for all roads, homes, businesses, farms, structures, or other establishments in unincorporated areas.

With the system still in its implementation phase, there will likely be issues with people using both the new and old addresses. But, ultimately, when the system is fully implemented and when navigation systems are all updated and using our new system’s addressing information, the ability to find a home or business will be much easier for EMS workers, package delivery drivers, and others. 

Flag-Style Address Sign

If you would like more information about Marathon County’s new Uniform Addressing system, please visit www.MyMarathonCountyAddress.org.

#3. How likely is it that a GOLD MINE will be established in Marathon County in the next 5 years? 25 years?


Based on what we know today, the short answer is:

Highly unlikely.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of known gold deposits worldwide never develop into active, operating mines.

Preferring to rely on metallic mining professionals — rather than our current knowledge at CPZ — we asked Aquila Resources (the Canadian mining company that owns the REEF Deposit in Marathon County) for their answer, and here’s what Chantae Lessard, Director of Social Performance and Engagement, had to say:

“Mining is a long and exhaustive process that requires significant patience, capital, and expertise. While a manufacturing plant can be built in 6 months, a mining operation takes decades to create. For instance, exploration can take 10 years or longer; a pre-feasibility – feasibility study usually takes about 5 years; the permitting process can last 10 years or longer; and construction of a mine can take about 3 or 4 years. This all needs to happen before a mine ever begins to operate.

While there is no guarantee a mine will be developed, we want to ensure residents are aware that nothing happens overnight in mining. In fact, it is a slow, deliberate process that will last many years. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Marathon County, and in the event we discover a minable resource, you will be the first to know.”

For additional information, visit the Wisconsin DNR’s metallic mining webpage or read There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills :: Marathon County’s Metallic Mining Ordinance Team Honored.

#4. What can be done to protect Lake Wausau and other waters from becoming green and ruining the WATER QUALITY for fish and other aquatic life?  


One answer is clear . . .

We need to limit the amount of phosphorus entering our waters.

You see, aquatic growth explodes when excess phosphorus is present. Algae starts to bloom (turning the water green) and then it dies. Its decomposition strips dissolved oxygen from the water, resulting in hypoxic conditions (low-oxygen levels) that can lead to fish kills.

This “boom and bust” of algal growth degrades the water quality, which can negatively affect recreational opportunities, livelihoods, and even public health (if the algae are toxic).

2018 algae bloom from excess phosphorus in Marathon County.

Furthermore, the waters of Lake Wausau eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico, where our pollutants/nutrients contribute to the “dead zone” — a massive hypoxic area 6 times the size of Marathon County and growing — where much aquatic life has died and most of the remaining life has migrated away. In a region that relies on the strength of its fishing, shrimping, and tourism businesses, the communities around the Gulf face a significant environmental crisis.

So, how can we limit the phosphorus that causes hypoxic conditions?

We need to work to stop this pollutant at “’point” and “non-point” sources.

  • Phosphorus can enter surface waters as a point source pollutant discharged directly to a water source at a single site, such as: paper mills, municipal wastewater treatment plants, cheese factories, and processing plants. Point sources have been regulated by the Clean Water Act since the 1970s and are required to use elaborate systems to remove phosphorus. Another point source is private septic systems that can leak, old/failing systems, or mismanaged systems (pumping to a road ditch). The phosphorus that is removed by point sources must be land applied using best management practices so that it doesn’t become a non-point source pollutant.
  • Non-point source pollutants are generally associated with particular land uses, such as agriculture. Phosphorous commonly enters surface waters after it has been lost from crop fields, either dissolved in runoff water or attached to soil as it erodes.
Poor management: Snow-covered ground liquid manure application; winter is a high-risk time to spread manure.

This phosphorous runoff contributes to pollution over a wider area and cannot be easily attributed to a single site; hence, the name non-point source. Lawn fertilizers would also fall into this category. Some best management practices that limit runoff and lower soil erosion to surface water from agriculture fields include: increased plant residue in fields, keeping the soil covered year-round by plants, low-disturbance tillage or no-tillage, cover crops, and managed grazing-perennial crops. Establishing 35-foot natural buffers along shorelines and using fertilizers with no phosphorus reduces runoff as well.

Restored shoreline buffer reduces phosphorus from lakeshores.

#5. Why have some Towns decided to do their own ZONING rather than join County zoning?


The value of zoning is to provide balance between individual property rights and community interests to create a healthy, safe, and prosperous living environment. Zoning also provides guidance on land use development and regulates aspects of development such as the placement, use, and/or size of a structure.

cpz - zoning
The diagram above represents the many ways in which zoning can help improve health, general welfare, safety, and prosperity.

Each Town has a choice whether to adopt County zoning, Town zoning, or to have no zoning at all. Towns choose their type of zoning based on the community’s interests and needs. Some townships have decided to implement their own zoning because it allows them to experience greater local autonomy and control over land use decisions, such as zoning districts, uses, and minimum setbacks. Ultimately, it’s a Town’s choice and responsibility to weigh the Town’s needs regarding if they want to join County zoning or have their own.

As allowed by the Marathon County Zoning Ordinance, every 10 years or time of comprehensive ordinance revision (whichever comes first), a Town can choose to opt out of County zoning. This revision period acts as sort of a performance-based review for the County. If a Town is not satisfied, it has the option to leave County zoning. If a Town were to adopt County zoning, the County would be able to provide services to meet the Town’s needs.

PROS of County Zoning:

  • Town may partner with the County for zoning administration and services
  • County has an existing Board of Adjustment
  • County has an Environmental Resources Committee
  • County has professional staff already in place to issue permits, answer questions, respond to complaints, and administer the zoning ordinance
  • County Corporation Counsel is used for all legal matters with no additional cost to the Town
  • Contractors enjoy uniformity of code and regulatory certainty
  • Deputy Zoning Administrator’s assistance
  • County staff are consistently monitoring legislative reports and status updates
  • Residents are already paying for County services through taxes

CONS of County Zoning:

  • Less autonomy for the Town
  • Requires a partnership with the County

When establishing Town zoning, there are some benefits, but each Town must also meet certain State requirements.

PROS of Town Zoning:

  • Complete Town control over general zoning discussions and decisions
  • Town has rule over input on zoning-related matters
  • Regulations designed for the entire County through County zoning may not be applicable in that particular Town.

CONS of Town Zoning:

  • Need for a Town Board of Adjustment
  • Need for a Town Planning Committee and/or to hire a Zoning Administrator
  • Must pay all legal fees
  • Zoning staff costs
  • Need to stay on top of legislative changes
  • Need for Town zoning ordinance (periodic updates required)
  • Responsible for responding to complaints
  • Requires Town to hire an attorney for citations and court cases

Although Town zoning does allow for greater control over local land use decisions and regulations, the increased control does not mean that the Town doesn’t have to follow Federal and State statutes. Zoning is reflective of one’s community and is still bound by State rules.

All of the previously mentioned requirements need substantial amounts of money and time to become effective. The County can take up the responsibilities of these requirements. The County also possesses sufficient resources, expertise, and capacity to administer compliance.

Common sense considerations apply to a Town’s choice of zoning. If a town is in an area with few developmental pressures and a low population, it may consider having no zoning at all. At the same time, it’s beneficial for a Town to have a plan or procedure laid out to act as a safeguard in case any issues were to arise.

  • Zoning as a tool can be used to address and progress toward key goals and objectives identified in a community’s comprehensive plan, as well as to adapt to the ever-changing landscape, demographics, and values of an area.
  • Zoning as a process can ensure that decisions and policies regarding land use are appropriate for a particular community’s residents and also that they adhere to local, State, and Federal laws and regulations. Without zoning, there aren’t any standards or requirements when it comes to certain developments and projects.
  • Zoning as whole can be used to protect the general welfare of the citizens, communities, and businesses, as well as property values and natural resources — all while balancing regulations with individual property owner rights to achieve the cumulative goals of a community. This can not only result in negative environmental impacts, but can also allow for land uses and projects that may not adhere to a community’s best interest.

Zoning can be used in community planning to interpret, create, administer, and manage land use regulations within a certain municipality as identified by its comprehensive plan.

The 2016 Marathon County Comprehensive Plan.

Comprehensive plans are designed with the support of the existing adopted zoning code when making critical land use decisions. One goal of a comprehensive plan is to have the future town’s appearance reflect its desire to be a preferred place to live, work, visit, and do business. The plan guides future development in a way that accurately reflects a communities’ long-term vision, goals, and priorities.

An important aspect of a comprehensive plan is that it is dynamic and can be modified to reflect proposed projects and ideas. As time progresses, the comprehensive plan can then adjust to evolving visions, new conditions, and developing trends. You can view or download the 2016 Marathon County Comprehensive Plan here.

More information regarding Marathon County zoning services can be found here. And for further information on Town zoning, please feel free to contact us.

Rebecca_FrischRebecca Frisch

Director  |  Marathon County Conservation, Planning, & Zoning Department

Rebecca has been the Director of the Marathon County CPZ Department since 2012 and has helped lead teams to develop the County Comprehensive Plan, rewrite the County Zoning Ordinance, and implement the Uniform Addressing System. She is grateful to be part of a great staff who strive to serve our customers in an honest, kind, and respectful way. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends cross-country skiing, bicycling, and being in the outdoors.  Email Rebecca Frisch.


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