Sunday, October 29, 2017

Key meetings could signal state backing for Kohler course

The Wisconsin DNR is edging closer to deciding whether Herb Kohler, a Scott Walker donor, can build another high-end golf course, this time on a 247-acre nature preserve he owns south of Sheboygan along Lake Michigan.
247 acres with forest, wetlands, perhaps Indian mounds with Lake Michigan access and side-by-side with a state park featuring sand dunes and unspoiled beaches is a significant, perhaps unique parcel in Wisconsin.  
By comparison, Lake Park in Milwaukee is 137 acres and South Shore Park is 45 acres, according to Milwaukee County records.
Also at stake: the integrity of Wisconsin waters, environmental rules, procedures. laws, and the reputations of several state agencies.

I have written repeatedly about this issue, having referenced it in a Friday blog posting:
 "the ongoing Wisconsin DNR review of proposed, high-end, wetland-filling-and-polluting, artifact-threatening, dune-damaging golf course [construction] adjacent to Kohler Andrae State Park" south of Sheboygan.
And again, in a Saturday posting about water, Walker and special interests:
The DNR has been working closely for several years with a Walker donor to help smooth out his bid to launch the construction of a golf course in a nature preserve along Lake Michigan despite significant questions about rare dune preservation, wetland filing, the Public Trust Doctrine, fertilizer runoff and even the private use of acreage for a golf course building and pavement inside the popular Kohler Andrae State Park next door. 
With the cooperation of the Walker-led Department of Administration which quickly approved the annexation of the Town of Wilson golf course site to the City of Sheboygan - - suppressing the town's opposition - - and parallel cooperation on friendly changes to the park's master plan from the Walker-led Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, preliminary approvals for the golf course from the DNR can't be far off.  
(The US Army Corps of Engineers and US EPA still have to weigh in, court action is likely to follow.)

The DNR's web page about the proposed project is here, and it further describes what the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board has already agreed to:
Master Plan Amendment
In 2015, DNR received a request from the Kohler Company that identified approximately five acres of Kohler-Andrae State Park lands to use in support of their proposed public golf course to be located to the north of the park. Specifically, Kohler proposed to construct and maintain the following on park lands: 1) a roadway and roundabout to access its lands; 2) utility access; and 3) a maintenance facility. In June 2017, the Natural Resources Board approved the department’s recommendation to initiate a master plan amendment process to consider these proposed changes.
The agency's analysis of the project's environmental impact statement has moved along since 2015, but questions about possible water contamination from golf course fertilizer and issues raised in an accompanying wetlands permit application had hung up the agency's review, media reported:
The site contains about 48 acres of wetlands, 3.69 of which the company has proposed filling to construct the course…
Environmentalists and a local landowner group have been...raising worries about fertilizer and water use and the effects of cutting large swaths of forest for fairways. The DNR...has requested a detailed fertilizer and pest control management plan.
There is well-organized grassroots opposition to the project and to the golf course site's annexation from the Town of Wilson to the City of Sheboygan which was quickly approved by Walker's Department of Administration. 

The retired superintendent of the adjoining state park which would lose land to the development has ripped that privatization:
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. 
Yet there are signs that the DNR is ready to wrap up its review; government agencies do not like to extend heavy lifting into the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year, so mid-November is the likely time for the DNR and Natural Resources Board to tie things up for 2018 and beyond.

The agencies are looking to hold perhaps three separate public meetings on project issues on the same date - - November 15th is a possibility- - to air its reviews, demonstrate that it has met all its obligations to the public interest and push the project forward. 

That suggests the agency believes it has all the information it needs from the company and other sources about construction, water, wetlands, and other issues; experience shows public meetings and hearings can be essentially perfunctory, with boxes on input and procedure getting checked to comply with guidelines and law while key political, and policy and decisions have been made.

Bottom line: It's important that opposition be properly submitted, and that large numbers of people make a show of support with their presence so media and government officials see it all with their own eyes - - and I have no doubt that people will show up as they have for several years - - but the state green-lighting the project looks likely, and soon.

The meetings which the DNR and Natural Resources Board are likely to hold before the holidays are 1) an informational session on the wetland permit, 2) an informational meeting on the final Environmental Impact Statement, and 3) a public hearing where formal comments would be collected on the changes to the Kohler Andrae Park Master plan.

Remember, the Board is the DNR's oversight and policy body, and like DNR management, is dominated by Gov. Scott Walker appointees, and he is all for releasing developments like the Foxconn project and others from wetland and environmental reviews, and also wants to give big corporate farms and feedlots an easier path to groundwater access and use on their terms, regardless of downstream or environmental consequences.

The three probable meetings could be scheduled at different times, but on the same day, at the same location.

Call it a recipe for confusion, and also a demand for large chunks of time from citizens on a working day or on already-busy evening: why not hold the meetings on successive days or a schedule which puts the public's needs first?

People can inquire about meeting plans and urge the DNR and the Natural Resources Board, (NRB), to make some changes.

What is hanging in the balance is the integrity of public water resources a stone's throw from Lake Michigan, not to mention the integrity of the DNR's processes and mission and the Natural Resources Board's park planning and management responsibilities.

Here is the NRB website and contact information: 

Laurie J. Ross, Board Liaison Office of the Secretary 608-267-7420

Further information about the Board membership is here.

DNR records show that the project's contact person is Mike Thompson, 414-303-3408

The DNR's new secretary is Dan Meyer 608-266-2621/Toll Free 1-888-936-7463 TTY Access via relay - 711.

The contact number for Gov. Walker is 608-266-1212, and the office website is here.


Anonymous said...

Why has no one asked WDNR what happened to the old landfill located on the property that is now Blackwolf Run Golf Course?

Anonymous said...

"What is hanging in the balance is the integrity of public water resources a stone's throw from Lake Michigan, not to mention the integrity of the DNR's processes and mission and the Natural Resources Board's park planning and management responsibilities."

Well said and so true. Trust in government is dependent on elected officials and bureaucrats listening to the very people who own these water resources - the citizens of Wisconsin. Don't give up our water without a fight Wisconsin!

Anonymous said...

I think that you are mistaken.......