People familiar with my blog know I have for years been posting about an effort to convert at an acknowledged expense to the environment writ large a privately-owned nature preserve in Sheboygan on the shores of Lake Michigan into an upscale golf course complex - 18-hole course, clubhouse, maintenance building, parking lot and more.
Bad enough that the company says a permanent transfer of some public acreage within the very popular, adjoining lakeside Kohler Andrae State Park is needed to make the private project work.
And a further mind-boggling insult is that the Wisconsin DNR remains joined with the developer in a lawsuit that seeks to bar citizens (opponents of the plan have created "Friends of the Black River Forest"- FBRF) from challenging the land:
The Kohler Company and the DNR have petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review a recent appellate court decision which affirmed the right of FBRF and citizens to challenge a state agency's actions, particularly regarding the environment....
Kohler's appellate argument claimed that FBRF and park users, were not harmed by the land swap of state park land because the land swap in itself did not mean a course would be built. (In order to bring a suit a plaintiff must be harmed by an action, i.e. have standing). The appellate judgement found that the land exchange decision anticipated that Kohler Co. would construct a golf course and noted the impact of the decision on the Friends’ members.
So basically the state - that's the people, you and I - is arguing that the people can be barred from contesting the disposition of public land which is there for the people's use - than 400,000 annually, according to recent DNR records - and which, in this case, is park land literally within a stone's throw of the people who have filed a legal contest.
What state park is next?
You can find scores of posts about the considerable history and environmental, procedural and legal issues in this matter by using the blog search box at the upper left on the website.
Here is one helpful example that includes photographs provided by the park's former long-time superintendent of some of the actual acreage inside the park - land that is integral to its design and function - which the developer says it needs for a road, parking lot and maintenance building that it can't find room for on the nature preserve site it wants to substantially clear-cut.
Public land which the DNR and its governing board are OK with transferring through a swap with the developer.
Let me emphasize:
* I'm not anti-golf. I used to play when I was younger.
* And I understand that things change.
But it's important to see the developer/DNR litigation's connections to other events during the Walker years, including the state's administrative end-run through an annexation to box out local opponents in the Town of Wilson where the nature preserve had long-been legally situated.
And let's also note the DNR's work on a separate wetlands permit that raised some similar preservation issues that eventually helped knock out a controversial wetlands loss in Monroe County sought by a developer.
We expected favoritism in the application of and access to state power to be shown to businesses and influential individuals who wanted to acquire important public resources like groundwater, and even public lands for private use during the Walker years.
Here is another example from a few years ago that showed how this special privileged lane gets used:
MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials have come up with a way to give a northern lakefront parcel to one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key donors that they hope will save them another round of stinging criticism.
Now maybe I'm missing something here - like an arcane legal procedure or requirement which requires a state agencies to remain in litigation even if it originated under a defeated administration.
Is there a standard, a rule, a precedent, a law - what? - that requires state agencies’ - with their chests of taxpayer dollars at the ready - to follow prior decisions in lockstep - no matter how flawed, no matter how often compounded while expenses mount for aggrieved taxpayers who have to fight the state to preserve what is already theirs.
It seems to me that the Evers administration was put into office by voters explicitly to assertively preserve public lands and defend citizen rights that were manipulated for private advantages during the Walker years.
Let me close with some words from former Kohler Andrae State Park Superintendent Jim Buchholz who precisely identified in 2016 what was so wrong with the land deal and which continues to explain why the state should have removed itself from this mess and lined up with the public interest years ago.
I encourage you to click on the link and read his statement in its entirety:
The Dept. of Natural Resources has no right and nor any responsibility to “give away” 4-plus acres of publicly-owned state park land to anyone, especially to a “for-profit” business or person for the purpose of increasing the revenue of such business or to increase the income of any person or corporation...
If this is approved for Kohler, “ I “ would like to request and expect approval for my own 4 acres so I could set up my own business, perhaps a hotdog stand. Of course, like Kohler, I would have to ban park visitors from ever setting foot on my part of their public land again (unless they purchase one of my hotdogs of course).
This land transfer for private use should not be allowed regardless of the political involvement, DNR appointments and pressure from the Governor’s office. The DNR is supposed to represent the preservation and protections of all public lands. Park visitors should not have to be denied access to their public lands just to appease a large corporate donor to a particular party or person.
If so, all confidence is lost for this agency now and into the future.