Monday, June 11, 2018

Strong testimony vs. Kohler golf project, park & wetland losses

I'd posted several notices about last week's Sheboygan court proceeding opposing the DNR's key wetland-fill permit that would enable golf course construction adjacent to and inside Kohler Andrae State Park - - an issue which I have followed in detail for years.

While a ruling on the permit won't come for several weeks, I want to point you to some of last week's powerful testimony against the project by James Buchholz, the park former superintendent, and an involved citizen, Jayne Zabrowski, which I have selected to post below from the website of Friends of the Black River Forest.

I will add more when I get a chance to review the full hearing record.

What follows is lengthy, (and disregard page break numbers in the text, as removing them may complicate the posting), but take the time to read these statements because they contain information about what's at stake
247-acre nature preserve might yield to golf course construction. Steve Back photo.

that has not been featured in SE WI media.


Jim Buchholzs Testimony for June 8, 2018 Public Comment at FBRFs Wetlands Court Case

State of Wisconsin Division of Hearing and Appeals 06/08/2018 Case No. DNR-18-002
  • Kohler Company preliminary wetland fill approval by the DNR for Golf Course development
  • Kohler Company/ DNR wetland loss mitigation and state park land exchange compensation

    Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this Division of Hearing and Appeals session this morning.

    My name is Jim Buchholz. I am a Sheboygan County resident and am a retired DNR employee with over 36 years of service to the State of Wisconsin. 

  • My state employment was with the Bureau of State Parks and Forests and I served as the Kohler-Andrae State Park superintendent from 1986 until my retirement in 2014. During that period, I also lived in the state park residence adjacent to the Kohler property for 14 years so I know the property well.

    I am here today because I have several concerns regarding some of the wetland permit issues the state has approved for public input for this hearing.

    The first issue (#2) questions whether the DNR had sufficient information to approve Kohler Company’s plan to fill 3.69 acres of wetland.

    The second issue (#3) asks if the public has been given enough information and was made aware of the ramifications of this information to provide input regarding the wetland permit. I believe the answer to both of these questions is “no” for the following reasons:
  • A total 67 individual wetlands were found to exist on the Kohler property. Of these 47 were approved by the DNR to be filled or altered to build the Kohler Golf course. To my knowledge the actual location of these wetlands and the “type” of wetland approved to be altered or filled were never identified to the public by map or any other means that I am aware of.

    Of course, even if the state or Kohler company were to identify their locations, the public would not have the ability to view them anyway since the Kohler lands have now been posted with “no trespassing” signs with threat of prosecution to violators. In addition, the Kohler Company has installed remote cameras to insure the public does not enter the property. With no means to actually view these wetlands to be destroyed the public is unable to make a judgement or comment on this issue.

  • According to Kohler’s existing golf course development plans I’ve seen, many of the wetlands will definitely be affected or destroyed in or near the proposed construction of fairways , putting greens, the restaurant/bar structures, maintenance facilities, parking lots and roads. Many of the wetlands on Kohler lands have previously been described as
globally rare and irreplaceable, even by DNR staff themselves. These include both interdunal wetlands and the ecologically significant ridge and swale wetlands. I feel the public has not been adequately informed as to what these wetlands are and how extremely rare they are.

Interdunal wetlands are formed by the erosion/drifting action of the wind over time which blows sand out between dune formations to create both seasonal and permanent wetlands between them.

Ridge and swale wetlands are even more rare. They were formed geologically over the past 5,000 to 8,000 years by the rise and fall of several ancient glacial lakes which today has been replaced with Lake Michigan. 

These rare wetlands run parallel to the lake’s shoreline and are separated by ancient, forested sand ridges that were once the shoreline of these extinct glacial lakes. Ridge and swale wetlands usually hold water all year and have up to 5 feet of peat deposits. These wetlands are home to many rare and specialized plants and animals. 

There are only three other known areas in Wisconsin (Manitowoc and Door Counties) that have this type of rare ridge and swale wetlands.

There are no others like it in Sheboygan County or anywhere else in the state.
  • The State of Wisconsin and the DNR’s own standards regarding both private and public construction and development in or near wetlands calls for:
    -No adverse impact to wetlands.
    -No adverse impact to water quality.

    - No significant environmental consequences.

    I feel one does not need to be a wetland specialist nor a water quality scientist to conclude that the filling and destruction of 47 previously unspoiled and rare wetlands on the Kohler property would most certainly have immense adverse impact to theKohler property not to mention the adjacent private and state park’s wetlands, water quality and would indeed have significant environmental consequences.

  • The Kohler lands include both mature forest and open sand dune formations and many interdunal and ridge and swale wetlands. The entire property was once considered to be so rare and valuable by the State DNR that nearly the entire property (135 acres) was designated as a state scientific area in 1969. The DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources assigned this rare Lake Michigan Sand Dune Ecosystem State Natural Area # 72 and named the property:

    M. Kohler Park Pines State Scientific/ Natural Area. The Kohler lands were also designed as a State Wildlife Refuge as per NR 15.01 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code Rules. It is with sadness and disbelief to me, and thousands of other Wisconsin citizens, that the State of Wisconsin and current management of the Department of Natural Resources now considers
the Kohler property with its globally rare and irreplaceable wetlands and unique sand duneformations “expendable”. Like so many others, we feel the DNR’s approval to allowirreversible destruction of these wetlands and near pristine forest for the development for yet another golf course is a mistake.


Issue 4 questions whether the wetland loss mitigation proposed ( ie. the land swap between the DNR and Kohler) would compensate for the adverse impact of filling 3.69 acres of wetlands and the loss of 4.9 acres of state park property for the construction of the Kohler Golf Course.

• The DNR attempted in 2017 to alter the previously approved Kohler-Andrae State Park Master Plan. The sole purpose for this effort was to reduce the park ownership boundaries to allow the state to give the Kohler Company 4.59 acres of publicly-owned state park land and to approve a 1.88 easement on park land for Kohler to build their golf course entrance roadway and round-about structure around the park visitor station. Kohler officials said it needed the state park land to build their maintenance facility for their proposed golf course even though the company already owns 247 acres of its own land. 

This development would entail building 3 large commercial shop structures totaling 30,000 square feet on state park property. In addition to shop repair facilities, these building would be used to store golf course pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, gasoline, diesel and other chemicals. 

In addition, the facility would require the construction of a large asphalt parking lot to serve their fleet of cars, vans, tractors, trucks, golf carts and other equipment. The entire maintenance facility would be surrounded with chain link fences and “no trespassing” signage to keep park visitors away. This proposed master plan change for the park went to a public hearing and came under overwhelming public opposition. 

In addition, tens of thousands of people from around the state and elsewhere signed online petitions actively opposed to the state giving away state park lands to a private company.

• In February of this year the DNR officials abandoned this effort and instead requested approval from the Natural Resources Board to give away the same 4.59 acres of state park property to the Kohler Company. In return, Kohler would transfer their ownership to the state of a 9.5 acre former horse boarding stable which the company had recently purchased, presumably for the very purpose of this land trade. 

This action was widely seen as an obvious intent to purposely sidestep the legal property master plan rule change procedure and avoid public input and discussion. This action taken by the state (on behalf of the Kohler Company) is not what Wisconsin citizens expect the DNR to do in preserving our public lands. In addition, this action sets a new and unwelcome precedent in allowing private industry and investors with enough money and political connections to acquire publicly-owned state park property and take public lands away from Wisconsin citizens for their personal use.
  • I am very familiar with the former horse boarding stable property which the DNR intends to accept in exchange for the loss of the park property to be given to the Kohler property as part of the wetland and park land loss mitigation. The property has none of the resources and uses Wisconsin state parks needs and fails to provide anything even close to the wetland loss on the Kohler property. The property has several large farm buildings which were used to house boarded horses, an indoor horse riding arena, a house or residence facility and a couple open riding rings which were created by bulldozing the existing landscape flat.

    Park officials claim they intend to use the buildings for storage and the residence for housing employees. If this occurs, then this property will certainly have be closed to park visitors resulting in a total loss of park land open to the public. If the property is not used for park administrative needs, then it would still cost the state several hundred thousand dollars to remove all the farm and residence structures, abandon wells, septic systems, underground fuel tanks, fences and other development. The state would then have to invest even more public dollars to re- landscape the area to some form appropriate to state park use, none of which would come close to the rare sand dunes and mature forest property given to the Kohler Company.

  • The horse boarding property recently purchased by the Kohler Company is closed to the public via physical chain across the driveway and is posted with no trespassing signage. As a result the public is again banned from even seeing the property they are to accept as part of land swap exchange. This makes it impossible for people to make a decision or comment on the land exchange one way or the other.

  • The description of state park property the DNR wants to be give to the Kohler Company to build their maintenance facility and entrance road to their golf course has been, in my opinion, falsely described to both the Natural Resources Board and to the public. DNR officials described the 4.59 parcel of state park lands to be removed from the property boundary as quote:

    “Not being used for any park functions or services and is no longer needed for thestate’s use for conservation purposes.”

    In reality, this beautiful area park is located adjacent to the Kohler Dunes State Natural Area and is used extensively by the public for hiking, bird and wildlife watching, photography and many other non-invasive recreational pursuits. The parcel includes both rare mature forested and open sand dune formations including seasonal interdunal wetlands. Several threatened species of dune plants such as Marrum or dune grass, thick-spiked wheat grass, sand reed grass and many others grow in this dune habitat. The area is also adjacent to the Black River marsh ecosystem and has several interdunal wetlands itself. This section of the park was intentionally preserved as a non-development wildlife area and dunes
preservation area in accordance with the property’s master plan developed and approvedby the DNR and the Natural Resource Board in 1988.
In summary, I feel the DNR’s preliminary wetland approval allowing the destruction of rare, globally significant wetland areas does did not follow the agency’s own wetland preservation standards. I also feel that the public has not been given adequate information of the significance and scope of the wetlands to be altered or filled by Kohler’s golf course development. 

In regard to the proposed land swap, I maintain that any honest comparison of the valuable sand dune state park land to be given to the Kohler company and horse stable property to be swapped in return to the state is not a good deal for Wisconsin citizens and certainly not for the nearly 200,000 visitors that recreate at Kohler-Andrae State Park each year.

The horse boarding property certainly could not be considered a wetland mitigation of any sort in my opinion. The land swap between the DNR and Kohler Company certainly appears to many as being an under-the-table effort to avoid public involvement in changing the boundaries of Kohler-Andrae State Park without having to include the public as is required through master planning rules and regulations.
Either way, allowing the State of Wisconsin to give away valuable and ecologically rare state park public property to a private company for their personal business/profit use is “wrong” and is the worst kind of precedence to set. The public expects their DNR to preserve and enhance our state parks, forests, and other public lands and to protect our water quality and rare wetland habitat for the benefit of all Wisconsin citizens.

Thank you for your consideration.


Good Morning.

My name is Jayne Zabrowski.

I am a Wisconsin resident. I am a person who loves nature and loves our state parks.

I care about the wetlands. But I am not a wetlands expert. I depend on the Wisconsin DNR to fully understand wetlands and to abide by their mission statement...To protect and enhance our natural resources....

I depend on FOIA requests to obtain information.
It had been very frustrating working with the DNR and not receiving documents in response to FOIA requests. The agency withheld documents from a FOIA request for over one year.

When the documents were finally received, there was a letter from the EPA dated 4-27-17 stating the wetland permit was incomplete. When the document was brought forth at this hearing, it was not allowed because it was not authenticated. The letter was received through a FOIA request just like the other documents received. This withholding of information deprives the public of sufficient information to comment.

“Seems like an Ill-advised place to build a golf course. “These are not my words.

These are the words of DNR employee, Jennifer Gihring, in an email to DNR employee, Mark Dudzik, on April 12, 2017. Mark’s comment was “want to impactit, you gonna pay, count on it.” 

After more than 5 years of reviewing the Kohler project, DNR employees were well aware that this was an ILL ADVISED PLACE TO BUILD A GOLF COURSE.

Yet the DNR issued a wetland fill permit.

The proposed project will result in significant adverse impacts to wetland functional values. There will be secondary and cumulative impacts that may occur over a period of time. Kohler stated, “cumulative impacts are not expected as a result of the project because any future golf course expansion is restricted by residential areas and the state park.” The EPA states this is not how cumulative impacts are determined. 

The DNR did not look at cumulative impacts on an entire rare Wisconsin Coastal gem that people come to enjoy. The DNR did not state the impacts of fragmenting an entire environmental corridor and the impact on the quality of our State Park. 

This withholding of information deprives the public of sufficient information.

It has been stated that the DNR may issue a wetland fill permit only if the proposed project represents the least environmentally damaging alternative taking into consideration alternatives that avoid wetland impacts.

The only alternatives reviewed were those presented by Kohler. What did the DNR analyze for the NO BUILD alternative? Who is representing the owners of the State Park, the Wisconsin residents. This lack of analysis again deprives the public of sufficient information.

This project would result in the destruction of globally rare ridge and swale wetlands. There are 67 of these globally rare wetlands on the property and 47 would be filled. The public has not been adequately advised of the impacts of filling 47 globally rare ridge and swale wetlands. These wetlands are strongly protected in other areas of the state.

An ill-advised place to build a golf course.

The DNR improperly granted the permit application because the DNR nor the public had sufficient information to determine the net positive or negative environmental impact. The project Impact assessment lists the direct impacts, the secondary impacts, the cumulative impacts and the impacts to the habitat integrity all as HIGH significance. Not one was listed as low significance. The DNR finds the impacts to be permanent and irreversible. All of these impacts and the DNR still issues a wetland fill permit?

How much more damage must need to be done before the DNR says NO? 

An ill-advised place to build a golf course.

The alternative did not include an adequate mitigation plan for rare wetlands, nor has it been established to the public why a private company should be allowed to use any of our State Park Land and fill high quality wetlands.

The public has a right to know why the DNR would allow the permanent loss of wetlands on State land for this private project.

An ill-advised place to build a golf course.

This project is not in the public interest as secondary PERMANENT impacts would occur from tree clearing, road construction, grading, irrigation, and fertilizer
application. While Kohler might have an economic incentive to want to build a golf course, their potential profits do not warrant the permanent destruction and fragmentation of high quality wetlands.

An ill-advised place to build a golf course.

The proposed project would have severe and irreversible environmental impacts and it warranted a high level of scrutiny by the DNR. Kohler’s proposal does nothold up to careful scrutiny because it lacks a sufficient analysis of alternatives that would avoid or minimize wetland impacts and does not include an adequate analysis of off-site alternatives.

In an attempt to balance the negative environmental impacts, Kohler is proposing to provide mitigation consisting of purchase credits. The Ridge and swale wetlands are imperiled and globally rare. These wetlands are very vulnerable to extinction. The proposed Wetland mitigation plan will not replace the damage this project will do to a globally rare wetland community. These rare wetlands cannot be re-created by man.

An ill-advised place to build a golf course.

This site provides critical habitat for rare, threatened and endangered wildlife and plant species. The proposed project will result in permanent fragmentation of habitat blocks and of plant communities and rare plant and animal habitats. This environmental corridor is connected to the State Park. The impacts upon the State Park have not been sufficiently presented to the public.

An ill-advised place to build a golf course.

Kohler did not establish that its proposed project represented the least environmentally damaging alternative. Yet the DNR accepted Kohler’s information without providing additional studies to determine the impacts.

The potential environmental harms associated with this project are far too great and warrant denial of the wetland fill permit.

As the DNR themselves stated: This is an ILL-ADVISED PLACE TO BUILD A GOLF COURSE.

1 comment:

BillSell said...

Thanks, James. I read this earlier, but just want to add that I am pleased the issue got the heavy hitter attention. I hope common sense, not profits, can prevail.