Thursday, November 5, 2015

Preservationists to WI DNR: No golf course on Black River Forest

There have been multiple posts on this blog since last year about grassroots efforts near Sheboygan - - like so many environmental, David v. Goliath fights statewide by concerned citizens - - to save woods, wetlands and a portion of an adjoining state park from conversion to an upscale 18-hole golf course on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.
The Wisconsin DNR must deny Kohler Company the use of  public State lands for their private profit. The role of the WDNR is to protect the environment...not work for developers.
The preservationists made their case a few days ago to a senior official from the Department of Natural Resources, where a project review is underway, and released the following statement:

October 26, 2015
Town of Wilson, Sheboygan County

For immediate release

Contacts: Claudia Bricks 920-457-0525
                  Mary Faydash 708-567-7419
Grassroots Group Takes Protest to DNR
Friends of the Black River Forest (FBRF), Town of Wilson, recently met with DNR Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede armed with thousands of petitions asking the agency to deny the Kohler Company permitting for its 5th Sheboygan County golf course planned adjacent to Kohler Andrae State Park. 

The FBRF group opposes the golf course citing the impact that destroying 247 acres of rare dunes, wetlands and forest would have on the community, as well the environment of the state’s second most visited park.

The Kohler Company is asking the DNR to allow the company to acquire 4 acres of State Park land with permission to reconstruct the Park entrance into a roundabout. “Our presentation put the DNR on notice that science and the letter of the law should be the basis of the permitting process. Giving away our land and commercializing the Park entrance for the personal profit of a company is unacceptable,” says Claudia Bricks, co-founder of FBRF.

“We founded this group to create a level playing field for our residents in dealing with the Kohler Company regarding the use of our Town’s natural resources. We informed the Deputy Secretary and senior management that we expect the Kohler Company to be treated as any other land owner. No one else would be allowed this share of our common resources.”

Attorney Christa Westerberg, representing FBRF, addressed legal concerns triggered by Kohler’s proposal. She also presented an independent evaluation of Kohler’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared by Dr. Quentin Carpenter (UW- Madison). Mary Faydash, co-founder, explains, “Dr. Carpenter’s report clearly refutes the Kohler Company’s PR about this destruction having a minimal impact on the rare wetlands and dunes. Many critical issues in Kohler’s report are avoided, minimalized or incompletely assessed.”

Attorney Westerberg asked Mr. Thiede to ensure the DNR carry out a diligent study assessing and verifying the real impacts of this proposal. She also pointed out the agency’s lack of response to the group’s information requests to date.

Lee Trotta, hydrogeologist, assisted FBRF in their presentation. Trotta pointed out testing errors in the Kohler report which skew the range and number of residents’ wells impacted.

Carolyn Dell, DVM, one of the three co-founders attending, informed the DNR, “We already know the water usage at Whistling Straits has dried up residents’ wells in Mosel. Similarly there are 10 planned high capacity wells for this proposed course.  Our town is a much more densely populated community, whose only source of water comes from our wells. One landowner should not be allowed to drain them for their personal profit.”

FBRF presented letters of concern from The Wisconsin Wetlands Association and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. Experts from the Morton Arboretum and Chicago State University expressed concerns about the removal of endangered species. All spoke to the serious effects of the destruction of this one of a kind ecosystem. Dr. Carpenter’s report concluded, “It is clear that a golf course and conservation of these rare communities are incompatible at this location.”

To illustrate FBRF concerns about bias, Faydash highlighted DNR emails obtained through an open records request showing the agency complying with Kohler’s wishes and misrepresenting information to the Wilson Town Board. 

Kathleen Rammer, FBRF member, spoke to the group on the wide presence of early villages and Native American burial grounds on the land Kohler proposes to bulldoze. She added, “The significance of this land is incredible- from burial grounds to a major bird migratory route, to rare dunes and wetlands.”

Bricks concluded, “While the DNR management in attendance politely listened to our presentation, how they respond will remain to be seen. We will continue to press for transparency and responsiveness to our requests for information. This is a David and Goliath fight and the Friends believe it is worth it. Once our wells are dried up, our wildlife is gone and our waters polluted, they will be gone forever.”  

Secretary Stepp, although invited, was not in attendance.

For more information, visit Friends of The Black River Forest.

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