Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Another attack on WI waters & their public trust ownership

[Updated from 8:14 p.m. Monday] Water-carriers at the State Capitol for developers are at it again: There is yet another outrageous plan by corporatist Wisconsin Republican legislators to enable construction near bodies of water and open them to private control:
The draft measures by Sen. Frank Lasee (R-DePere) and Rep. Alan Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) would make it easier to develop dry lake beds; lessen the regulation of certain ditches and other manmade waterways; and make it easier for businesses or homeowners to get notifications from local governments about official actions that could affect their properties.  
The bills touch on a range of complex and often controversial issues like the rights of property owners, care for the environment and the powers of local elected officials. They have the support of influential groups such as the business lobbies for Realtors and builders in the state, but passing the measures with just a few months left in the legislative session could prove a challenge.
And we are not surprised, are we, especially at the ideological justification offered by co-drafter Frank Lasee? - - but, look:

It's got to be clear by now that this latest ploy in the name of property rights vs. public rights is a part of a rolling, relentless scheme to reward special interests, grab public resources - - and this is the important political reality - - to overturn piecemeal the historic Wisconsin constitutional water-management guarantees known as the Public Trust Doctrine - - but comes conveniently in low-profile legislation without the schemers openly shouldering all the messy accountability associated with full-scale legislative votes, debates and a statewide referendum.

As I wrote yesterday: 

Anyone watching the coordinated weakening of Wisconsin's environmental laws under Scott Walker and his corporatist allies will not be surprised by the findings. But props to the Wisconsin State Journal for highlighting both the increased pace of wetland fillings in Wisconsin and the slow pace of creating compensatory artificial wetlands:

Builders have been eliminating wetland acreage at the fastest pace in at least a decade under a controversial state law that eased protections for the ecologically important lands...But three and a half years later, a crucial element in the law’s provisions — replacement wetlands that were supposed to offset those eliminated by development — has been temporarily exhausted...it could be years before larger tracts of replacement wetlands are functioning. 
More details of this latest sop to developers at the expense of wetlands, surface waters, and public input into key changes to the physical and political landscape are here. And the proposal is so sweeping, so should not be fast-tracked: 
Also, the draft bill on waterways would codify a 2013 state Supreme Court decision that limited the Department of Natural Resource's authority to set water levels on Lake Koshkonong.  
The case stems from a long-standing dispute over water levels on the lake in Jefferson, Dane and Rock counties.  
A dam on the lake was repaired in 2002 and the water level was set at a low level sought by the DNR. Leaders of the local lake district sought a higher water level. Lower courts upheld the decision of the DNR until it reached the Supreme Court.  
In a 4-3 decision, the high court ruled that state's public trust doctrine doesn't apply to nonnavigable waters above the ordinary high water mark of a water body. The doctrine holds that Wisconsin lakes, river and streams are to be protected for the benefit of the general public. 
So keep this in context, look at the record these last five years, and look at how the DNR still defines the Public Trust Doctrine - - after all the intentional rollbacks - - to absorb how much of our stat's natural environment and the people's heritage is threatened, and already lost:

The public trust doctrine

Wisconsin's Waters Belong to Everyone

Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources, owned in common by all Wisconsin citizens under the state's Public Trust Doctrine. Based on the state constitution, this doctrine has been further defined by case law and statute. It declares that all navigable waters are "common highways and forever free", and held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources.

And the look at the bigger picture here:

Whether it's voting suppression in the formerly open and progressive Wisconsin, or the shutdown of Planned Parenthood clinics and women's health services, or starved Medicaid financing, or slashed public and higher education or the enforced suffocation of minorities or impoverishment of workers in a low-wage, slow-growth state - - and ponder, honestly: what's the end game here, Bucky?

What's to be left of Wisconsin when this particular crowd leaves, or loses interest, or finally gets run outta town?

1 comment:

lufthase said...

This part of Lasee's press release was especially rich:
"The City of Superior’s shoreline remains blighted and littered with decrepit structures, while just across the bridge Minnesota’s Duluth is flush with restaurants, hotels, and commercial areas."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure MN has a similar public trust doctrine with navigable waterways. The big difference is WI is constitutional and MN by statute.

There's probably a thousand reasons why Duluth is faring better than Superior, but I bet the bulk of it gets back to MN having higher wages overall, investing more in infrastructure (and Universities), and generally being a more attractive place to live. And, oh by the way, Duluth (and the rest of MN) has lower property taxes too. They do it by shifting more of the property tax burden away from houses and onto commercial and industrial property. That, along with a higher minimum wage, and they still have businesses hanging around and hiring people. Imagine that.