Monday, July 25, 2016

DNR golf course review ripped by adjoining DNR state park's ex-super

[Updated] I'd supplied some fresh information earlier today about the ongoing battle documented on this blog for the last two years over whether a privately-owned, high-end golf course proposed in a Lake Michigan nature preserve - - 

- - by a major Scott Walker campaign donor should win approval by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The plan proposes turning over to the development between four and twenty acres of the adjoining Kohler-Andrae State Park.

The DNR held a public meeting in Sheboygan last week on its draft Environmental Impact Statement, (EIS), issued for the plan even though the agency has no formal application or permit submissions for the project.

I thought people should read why the former Superintendent of the Kohler Andrae State Park - - 36-year DNR veteran James Buchholz - - said in his formal comments that the draft EIS "is flawed and incomplete...lacks scientific analysis and study, and depends way too heavily on the Kohler Company’s own very slanted studies and papers."

His emailed comments to the DNR were copied to project opponent Friends of the Black River Forest, which is distributing them. 

July 23, 2016

I am strongly opposed to the development of the proposed 18-hole golf course in the Town of Wilson by the Kohler Company. I also feel the DNR’s proposed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is flawed and incomplete for the following reasons:

·      The Dept. of Natural Resources has no right and nor any responsibility to “give away” 4-plus acres of publicly-owned state park land to anyone, especially to a “for-profit” business or person for the purpose of increasing the revenue of such business or to increase the income of any person or corporation.  Kohler-Andrae State Park’s land acquisition was supported by Federal LAWCON funding.  As such the conversion of these public lands to a private person or corporation is NOT justified to accommodate their financial interests and is not 
permitted except in very rare circumstances.
·      The EIS document map shows a total of over 19 acres that are being considered for Kohler’s development with no detail as to the actual footprint of the development.  The EIS mentions the size of maintenance building to be constructed on state park lands but does not state the size of the paved parking lot that would need to service the proposed maintenance building.  The area listed for conversion is listed as “lightly used”… as if it doesn’t matter if the land is given away or not.  

This is far from the truth. The area may not be used as heavily as the park’s beach and picnic areas but this was by design by park management.

Hiking trails, boardwalks, restrooms, etc. were left out of this area to keep it in its natural sand dune state to protect this rare ecosystem as 
mandated by the Kohler-Andrae State Park Master Plan.

·      The DNR’s EIS states that permitting the transfer of public land for Kohler’s own private use and the development of roads, shop buildings and parking areas on these fragile and rare sand dune lands would “not set a precedent” My question and that of anyone else reading this EIS is how could it not?
              If this is approved for Kohler, “ I “ would like to request and expect approval for my own 4 acres so I could set up my own business, perhaps a hotdog stand.  Of course, like Kohler, I would have to ban park visitors from ever setting foot on my part of their public land again (unless they purchase one of my 
hotdogs of course).

              This land transfer for private use should not be allowed regardless of the political involvement, DNR appointments and pressure from the Governor’s office. The DNR is supposed to represent the preservation and protections of all public lands.   Park visitors should not have to be denied access to their public lands just to appease a large corporate donor to a particular party or person. 

If so, all confidence is lost for this agency now and into the future.

The EIS hints at what is already known in that the DNR intends to “alter” the existing property master plan in order to give away this part of the park to a corporation.

 The Kohler-Andrae Master Plan was developed over several years of local and statewide public input and was approved by the Wis. Natural Resource Board.  It cannot be altered without permission and approval of the natural resource board “and” without new local and statewide public debate/hearings.

·      The EIS does not include the acreage necessary and loss of sand dune habitat needed to construct the proposed “roundabout” at the park’s office area. The design shown in the document would be way too small to accommodate all the heavy traffic and especially the larger delivery semi and panel trucks that would be entering and exiting the state park and the golf course on a regular basis.

It would not even accommodate most of the larger RV’s and longer camping trailers that would need to maneuver through this small roundabout.  A much larger roundabout would be needed which would require at least an acre of land (sand dune habitat) and create even more lost public land and habitat.

·      The traffic system LOS (Level of Service) calculations were incomplete and as stated in the DNR EIS report, did not occur during the heaviest use times for traffic on weekends.  With more than 400,000 visitors a year the Kohler-Andrae entrance is already burdened by way too many vehicles, RV’s and trailers.  Backups all the way out to the Co. Hwy V have regularly occurred during busy times and even during the evening hours if special event are held in the park.The addition of even more heavy traffic due to Kohler’s golf courseand their proposed clubhouse/restaurant  by cars, delivery trucks and most likely buses from their own hotels,  would certainly cause traffic jams and confusion for all, especially since their highest use period would “also” be on weekends.

Visitors to both the state park and the golf course will be frustrated by this unnecessary traffic congestion. It would also hamper all police, fire and rescue emergency calls.  According to Kohler’s plan for the course it would host some high profile events as well.  If so, “where” would all these people park and how would they all access the golf course at the same time of year that the state park has so much incoming and outgoing traffic?

·      If Kohler receives a positive DNR EIS report it should only be approved without the loss of publicly-owned state park land for their entrance road, roundabout, shop building and parking lots.

 There is no convincing need to use state park lands to accomplish their project other than it is the “cheapest” way to go for the Kohler company.  This should not be a consideration for the DNR to give away state park lands. The alternative D-3 of the EIS is the correct route to go and should be selected by the DNR’s EIS as the only course to take.  

The D-3 version allows Kohler to make use of their own existing entrance off of Co. Hwy V (12th Street) north of the state park with a direct eastern access to their property.

Yes, this would mean the construction of an expensive bridge over the Black River and additional road building on their property but again, this is the Kohler Company’s concern and not the DNR’s. There is no logical reason why the golf course shop building and parking lots could not be built on their own property adjacent to the existing state park shop building as was originally planned. 

There is no reason to take away public state park land and destroy rare sand dune formations and habitat for Kohler’s shop building and parking area development when they have 247 acres of their own property to work with.

·      The EIS does mention a few negative effects of Kohler’s plan to deforest 50 or more acres of mature timber but there are many more.  This unique forest, dune and wetland area is an extension of the rare sand dune ecosystem that is currently protected and managed by the DNR on the Kohler-Andrae State Park property.

Clear cutting, pulling stumps, and bulldozing these areas for the purpose of installing golf course greens will forever destroy a fragile landscape and ecosystem that has evolved in its present state since the last ice age over 14,000 years ago. Unfortunately the Kohler company does not see any problem with destroying this very unique and rare Great Lakes sand dune area for the purpose of building a golf course for their wealthy clients. 

The EIS does mention that there are “several rare species”  that will be destroyed by Kohler’s development. A few are listed but not all.  Some are Federally threatened species such as the dune or pitcher’s thistle plus state threatened species including most of the dune grasses such as marram/beach grass, thick-spiked wheat grass, sand reed and many others.  Many of these are only found growing on Great Lakes sand dunes and nowhere else in the world.
·      Bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian and insect life (some rare/threatened) that have adapted to both the wooded and open dune habitat would also be displaced or destroyed by the Kohler development.  The combination of the state park and Kohler forested area has long been known as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) for migratory birds along Lake Michigan.

Throughout the entire history of the DNR and the Conservation Commission before that, staff managers, biologists and scientists have supported and strived to protect these areas at all costs.

The EIS should make a strong statement against the destruction and fragmentation of this important IBA and Great Lakes dunes habitat.  It should be noted also that an active bald eagle nesting site is located only a short distance to the north of the Kohler property which most likely will be negatively affected by the massive tree removal, development and increase in public use of this area.

·      The EIS also mentions several “globally rare” wetlands that will be lost in the construction of the golf course. The DNR’s own Bureau of Endangered Species has termed these rare wetlands (Interdunal wetlands) as the rarest, most irreplaceable habitat/ecosystems in the state of Wisconsin. 

If the DNR doesn’t protest the irreversible/permanent destruction of this important and threatened ecosystem who will?

Wetland replacement mitigation was mentioned as a possible replacement of these lost wetlands but it must be very clear to all reading the EIS or least the DNR staff themselves that these rare ridge and swale interdunal wetlands cannot be reproduced artificially elsewhere.

 The EIS should make this clear to all readers in addition to explaining why these wetlands and surrounding dune formations should be protected from development.

·      The effects of groundwater well water drawdown due to the proposed high capacity wells usage is listed in the EIS as “uncertain”.  This uncertain designation is not appropriate and should be studied in more detail by someone other than the Kohler Company. 

Their estimate of using 15-25 million gallons a year (just to water their golf course) plus about 2 million more of potable water usage seems  low.  These estimates were all based on water usage at Kohler’s other golf courses.  This reasoning fails to take into account that none of the other courses were built on 247 acres of nearly pure dry sand with little or no water holding capacity. 

·      There was mention that the high capacity wells located within Kohler-Andrae State Park have not caused any problems to the surrounding landowners but obviously the park doesn’t use 15-25 million gallons of water for irrigation/watering lawns. 

In fact, the park doesn’t water any of its lawns and never has.  

The park only uses well water for flush toilets, water fountains, two small fill towers at the dump station for campers and to provide water at few shower stalls and sinks for campers. 

Kohler’s only advise for local neighbors who will run out of water when their wells run dry is to contact them for help and “they” will determine if they believe their water drawn down are at fault or not.

This information (clearly written directly by Kohler staff) does NOT belong in a DNR EIS document in my opinion and is of no help to local citizens who will be effected by the massive water use for the golf course.  

In addition, the state park itself may have water issues with its own wells due to the high draw of ground water aquifers which will affect all 
state park visitors and campers.

·      Overall, I feel the DNR’s EIS is incomplete, lacks scientific analysis and study, and depends way too heavily on the Kohler Company’s own very slanted studies and papers.

Much of the EIS document seems to be a rehash of Kohler’s EIR report from March of 2015.

At that time citizens were asked to submit questions and concerns about that document as did the DNR itself. To date very few answers or responses have been given by the Kohler company to those concerns and are clearly NOT covered in the proposed EIS.

It would seem impossible to complete a DNR EIS without that data and lots of other very important “missing” information about the golf course and related facility/roads development plans.

 Unfortunately as a result of this missing documentation and lack of detailed construction and road/parking lot placement plans it is really not possible for citizens to comment fully on Kohler’s proposal or the DNR’s current EIS.
James Buchholz
(retired superintendent of Kohler-Andrae State Park)
Sheboygan County Resident

           Plymouth, WI

Guest post about the GOP, Gov.Kasich and Sen. Cruz, by Peter Lewis

Tracking precedents for DNR draft review of Kohler golf course

I'd recently posted about the slow response from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to an Open Records request I'd submitted about a high-profile and controversial development plan.

I did get some information last week and will bring you the details, but first some background.

The agency had released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)  - - a first state step in studying major projects which could impact land, air, water, and other socio-economic factors - - that reviewed the suitability of constructing an 18-hole, privately owned high-end golf course along Lake Michigan on a wooded, water, sand dune and Native-American artifact-laden 247-acre nature preserve south of Sheboygan that also abuts the popular Kohler-Andrae State Park.

More about the state park's relationship to the golf course plan will be included in another post coming today, but for now, back to the draft EIS:

Since the DNR has yet to receive a detailed, formal proposal with requisite permit applications for the project from the Kohler Company - - the land owner and potential developer - - project opponents are crying foul over what they see as cart-before-the-horse state input that could help the developer eventually nail down project approval.

I had noticed that Mike Thompson, a DNR official, told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lee Bergquist that other plans had also received similar draft EIS analysis prior to the submission of formal proposals:

Mike Thompson, environmental analysis team supervisor, cautioned that the document is a draft and could be changed, based on comments from the public, and as other information becomes available. 
Thompson said there have been instances when the DNR has moved ahead with the environmental impact report before receiving a formal application. He said the company did not ask for the analysis to be done before it filed an application.
I asked several people familiar with the DNR if they could recall such instances and no one could supply a relevant example, so I posed the same question to the agency, and asked for the records, or links or citations for them.

A fair question, I thought, given that the project would be developed by a powerful and well-connected Walker campaign donor whose golf course plan would also take control of between four-and-twenty acres of public land in the adjoining state park.

In the DNR's response to my request, David Siebert, director of the 
Bureau of Environmental Analysis and Sustainability said via email:

When Mr. [Mike] Thompson was speaking with Mr. Berquist [Sic], before his article of June 29, 2016,  he was referencing projects that he was familiar with, where DNR worked on a joint EIS with the PSC.  In those circumstances that Mr. Thompson was thinking about during the interview, a DNR/PSC EIS was developed before DNR had all the DNR permit applications in hand.  We would be happy to provide you a  copy of  one or more those documents if you like. 
NR 150 and WEPA require that DNR conduct an environmental analysis in advance of making permit decisions. 
Siebert later wrote:
The example Mr. Thompson was talking about was the Fox Energy Generation Project, Final EIS August 2002. I checked this morning and unfortunately the PSC electronic file system does not have a link to the document...There are likely other examples like that in that timeframe, but that was what he was thinking about at the time of the interview.
To be clear, I appreciated the information and Siebert's offer to supply hard copy material about that project.

If I am correct, The Fox Energy Generation Project involved proposed power plant and related supply facilities which ultimately were not constructed - - an undertaking far greater in cost and scale than the possible nature preserve golf course and which could justify preliminary reviews as early as possible.

I assumed when I read The Journal Sentinel story that the DNR had a longer and more recent list of draft EIS reports - - plural - - for projects similar in scope and timeline to the golf course project.

More later, perhaps.

Major WI frac sand mining public meeting Tuesday

Grassroots activism and organizations like Midwest Environmental Activists, (MEA), forced the ideologically-obstructionist Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to examine the broad impacts of the relatively-lightly regulated frac sand mining industry which has exploded in Wisconsin.

Don't think the agency is doing this out of the collective goodness of its senior, private sector-based heart.

In fact, the Walkerites' priorities that enable polluters while blocking local controls that would provide cleaner land, air and water - - in this specific case preventing so-called fugitive-dust air pollution and wasteful groundwater impacts flowing from the rapidly-expanding sand mine industry statewide led to Walker's failed effort to downgrade the long-standing DNR oversight board which had the power to authorize the sand mine review.

So getting the oversight board (The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board) retained, the sand mine study off the ground and the public meeting schedule - - and let's be honest, one meeting only is insufficient - - in the face of the Walker machine's power and pro-industry tilt is one of the most important grassroots wins for the environment in the last few years against those who, like Walker, want the DNR to be managed with what he called with land developer Cathy Stepp's appointment as DNR Secretary "a chamber of commerce mentality."

Tuesday brings the first major meeting to discuss the DNR's findings to date.

How objective, fair, detailed and publicly-spirited are the findings? We'll see.

MEA has issued this release; note the location, comment information (Aug. 22 deadline) and other important information:

Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis draft report
public information and comment session

Who: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is hosting the meeting; public is invited to attend and comment

When: Tuesday, July 26 starting at 4:00 p.m.

Where: Eau Claire - Chippewa Valley Technical College, Business Education Center, Casper Conference Center, Room 103A/B, 620 W. Clairemont Ave.

Why this is important:
·        The public and elected officials need sound, unbiased information about the impacts of frac sand mining in Wisconsin. The DNR has been working on an in-depth, comprehensive report on frac sand mining for over a year and has issued a draft of that report for public review.

·        Frac sand mines are still operating in Wisconsin – while mining activity has slowed considerably since 2011, industry experts say the demand for silica sand for hydraulic fracturing will continue or rise as demand and prices for oil and gas go up.

·        A “Strategic Analysis” doesn’t make new laws, but it can be a resource for decision makers.

·        Midwest Environmental Advocates believes the DNR’s draft Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis needs more input from the public and better data. We are concerned that the report:
o   relies on industry-funded studies on air quality based on voluntary monitoring by frac sand operations,
o   only makes passing reference to independent research on PM2.5 that shows that industrial sand facilities in Wisconsin may be causing or contributing to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter around mining facilities,
o   and the its air quality section continues to reflect the DNR’s position that industrial sand mines do not produce or emit PM2.5 dust,
o   however, the Strategic Analysis DOES acknowledge the threat of acid mine drainage from industrial sand facilities and supports further study of the connection between mining and metals in our water.
·        The DNR has scheduled only one public information session for this long-awaited report. Making the public aware of this opportunity to give feedback to the state DNR will help encourage participation. Media coverage of the information session can include the deadline for written comments on August 22.

Timeline of important dates:
·        2011 – frac sand mining begins to boom in western Wisconsin
·        November 2011 - Citizens and Chippewa Valley health professionals formally ask the DNR to enforce stricter air quality standards on frac sand dust (petition to DNRDNR denial)
·        August 2013 – Trempealeau County approves year-long moratorium on frac sand mining permits; releases report on frac sand mining in September 2014
·        August 2014 – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds DNR is failing to protect air quality (PM2.5 dust or fine particulate matter)
·        September 2014 – Environmental Working Group issues a report on frac sand mining: around 58,000 people live within a half mile of a frac sand mine, transportation hub or processing facility.
·        October 2014 – Midwest Environmental Advocates supports over 1,100 Wisconsin citizens through the True Cost of Sand petition in asking the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board to direct the DNR to do an in-depth study (Strategic Analysis) of the impacts of frac sand mining.
·        July 2016 – DNR releases draft Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis and invites public review and input.