Sunday, October 4, 2015

Emblematic WI environmental outrage worsens

[Updated from 5:29 p.m. Saturday] When it comes to Scott Walker and the Wisconsin environment, what is past is prologue - - is outrageous.

So props to the strong and continuing reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lee Bergquist about the continuing abuse of the public's rights to enjoy access to their constitutionally-guaranteed resources in Wisconsin.

And a tip of the hat in particular to Bergquist's recent disclosures about wealthy Walker donors pressuring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for favors on and near state - - public - -  land and waters in Northern Wisconsin:

A footpath on Department of Natural Resources property in Vilas County that a wealthy political supporter of Gov. Scott Walker is trying to buy has been upgraded in recent months without state approval. 
A spokesman for business executive Elizabeth Uihlein acknowledged that workers at her adjoining property may have ventured on to state land and cleaned up the trail slightly, although those who have seen the trail say the improvements were detailed and significant. 
Uihlein, a co-founder of Uline Corp. in Pleasant Prairie, is seeking to buy 1.75 acres along Rest Lake, where the footpath is located. But a tentative deal with the DNR was put on hold last month after critics raised questions about the transaction.
More about the Uihleins, in a Forbes piece, here - - and note also that their family packaging and distribution company recently received approvals from the DNR and other agencies for major floodplain alterations to accommodate expansion on the company's Pleasant Prairie, WI property - - so the world of the DNR should not have been an unknown.

And here is more information about proposed and actual sale of various parcels of public lands during Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County Executive and Governor. 

But back to the current land sales and water issues up North, and the two big takeaways: 

*  That the land deal on Rest Lake was tabled by the DNR's long-standing oversight board after public outcry underscores why that board needs to remain independent, though Walker tried to water it down to a toothless, advisory board through an unsuccessful budget maneuver earlier this year.

*  And you can draw a straight line from this unfolding outrage over special treatment for special people back to one of Walker's earliest actions as Special-Interest-Governor-in-Chief after he was sworn in:

His administrative intervention before an appeal process had been completed to permit the filling of a wetland for a donor/developer to build a building near Lambeau Field - - a move made law by the Legislature.

a wetland in May
I'd noted the current Walker/donor case more than once on this blog - - here is an example - - as part of the blog's focus for years on threats to the state's waters and the damage that Scott Walker's "chamber-of-commerce" remake of the DNR is doing to the environment:

A blog posting summary from last year included these items:

There were early signs of Walker's intention to unwind long-standing legal protections that had given Wisconsin a strong and deserved environmental reputation as he handed over resources, like groundwater and wetlands, to people out to make a buck - - even though the State Constitution's Public Trust Doctrine says the waters and their surroundings are commonly-held assets to be guarded by the state as trustee for all the people, not sold, given away or disrespected.
Among the early signs:
*  Walker's very telling claim during the campaign that it was opponent Tom Barrett with the radical environmental agenda. This is what we now know is Walker's pattern - - twisted, even dishonest rhetoric, a flight from transparency despite his boast about it (scrubbed from his website), and all blended with finger-pointing and misdirection verified time and time again by PolitiFact, its few "True" ratings and far greater total of "False" and "Pants on Fire" conclusions when reviewing Walker's remarks.
And for a perfect point of closure: the link to Walker's campaign ad wherein he made the claim about Barrett is now blocked. See this posting. File at #transparencyfail.
*  Walker's very early push for a special bill passed by the Legislature to allow a donor to develop a wetlands near Lambeau Field for an outdoors supply retailer before the DNR had finished its environmental review.
And that was just the beginning.
*  As people living near big dairies are learning: state agencies these days will side with industry against the people even if the result is tainted drinking water:
I'd noted the impact of a recent DNR/Department of Justice tag team decision that intentionally disregards a judge's order limiting the size of a big Kewaunee County dairy operation because of manure-related drinking water pollution.
The ruling's arrogance was yet another regrettable example of how corporate interests in the state have been given control over water rights through Scott Walker's 'chamber-of-commerce mentality,' forcing citizens to spend their time and money fighting the government they support through taxes and fees for land and water quality that should be top public public priorities.
*  As are people at the grassroots on a shoestring trying to save wetlands, the Black River Forest and Kohler-Andrae State Park from private golf course intrusion on a bluff just yards from Lake Michigan.

*  Or in Marathon County, where a million-gallon manure spill into a river produced a DNR fine of $464.

*  Consider the power imbalances in that battle with the well-connected ndustrialist and golf course magnate Herbert Kohler:

Kohler is asking the DNR for an easement of 3.8 acres for its golf course operations. The company had sought as much as 20 acres from adjoining Kohler-Andrae State Park. An early version of the course showed that Kohler wanted to build several holes on state park land...
Kohler, a financial supporter of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, spoke with staff from the governor's office, the DNR and the Department of Administration in late April about the easement, Walker's spokeswoman, Jocelyn Webster, said in an email.
"Mr. Kohler raised the issue," Webster said in a separate email.
Between 2009 and 2013, Kohler Co. employees contributed $42,254 to Walker's campaign fund, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks political donations. Nearly all of that amount was directly from Herbert Kohler.
DNR Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney also has "participated in a conceptual meeting with the Kohler Co. on the golf course" that included Herbert Kohler, said DNR spokesman Bill Cosh.
Never forget that when you read about a body of water in Wisconsin harmed by pollution, especially enabled by weak DNR enforcement - - here's one recent example from Western Wisconsin - -  the water involved is a public resource. There are no private rivers, lakes and streams in Wisconsin, and the water is all connected as it flows to either the Lake Superior, Lake Michigan or Mississippi River watershed.

The state constitution says all the waters of the state are held in trust for all the people of the state, not as a special interest cookie jar the DNR and the Governor and his hand-picked corporate errand boys and girls can open when whim and money are in the air.


Anonymous said...

Look at the tax records for the Uihlein property. There are twelve units. In 2014, the tax bills for only four of the twelve units went to anyone but Rest Lake Apartments, LLC. In other words, it looks like the other eight units were vacant, so the tax bills for them went to Rest Lake LLC.. In those tax records for the year 2014, each of the twelve units was assigned a fair market value at least $10,000 lower than the value the unit had in 2011. In other words, the units aren't selling, the Uihleins have to pay property taxes on the all unsold units, and they desperately need something to make their hard-to-sell units more attractive. What would be more attractive than selling property with direct access to the lake? When you consider how much the new lake frontage will increase the market value of the twelve condo units, the price demanded by the state seems pretty cheap.

Anonymous said...

@11:35 PM
Are you kidding me?

So the DNR under director Kathy Stepp was apparently going to sell a prime piece of public owned land to them for the benefit of a condo complex? Do they actually own a condo unit in this complex as a personal residence as listed on the tax bill?

Sue said...

And who gets to enforce the 'no trespassing' signs that will go up when this land moves into private hands? And who pays the enforcers?
I have a feeling that not only will citizens lose the land, they'll get to pay to keep themselves out.