Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tracking precedents for DNR draft review of Kohler golf course

[Updated from 7/25/2016] 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.

Tuesday update:

Siebert today emailed me this further information and I am happy to add it in full:

Mr. Rowen—

FYI.  This was not one of the examples that Mike Thompson was thinking of during his June 28 interview with Mr. Bergquist, but is responsive to your open records request.

The Department prepared an EIS for this proposed project, although no stocking permit application was ever received. See the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law at the end of the document.

·         Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Introduction and Stocking of Landlocked Salmon into Big Green Lake. The document is available under Doc ID # EA0214 at:


or at the direct link to the document:


Anonymous said...

Two really interesting articles on Kohler. Thanks for the information and hard work pulling it together.

swamper said...


There are no other examples of similar projects. NR 150 and the EIS code required an application prior to EIS development.

Anonymous said...

Then this was a huge waste of staff time.

Anonymous said...

...and in hindsight (looking 14 years back, to 2002) so was DNR's "Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Rules to Eradicate Chronic Wasting Disease in Wisconsin’s Free-Ranging White-tailed Deer Herd" just another waste of time.

Was it --


-- even an EIS? A long-winded discussion of hunting rules' impact on hunter happiness or state revenues does not an EIS make.

Does DNR know what EIS means?

(Considering there's no mention of what turned out to be the considerable environmental impact of deer farms and hunting preserves' on the CWD epidemic's spread into our wild deer population, it's probable they know not what environmental impact means.)

Common sense mandates that we (the people) must protect our fresh water and other natural resources like Lake Michigan's unique dune ecosystem and Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay.

Good work, James, keeping your readers apprised of the WalkStepp DNR's propensity to keep fooling around with our public trust just to appease the corporations, at the expense of Nature.

James Rowen said...

Thank you for these comments and information.