GOP Bill Would Open Up Thousands of Wetland Acres to Development

October 3, 2017

Wetland

A GOP legislative proposal would allow thousands of acres of Wisconsin wetlands to be developed without state scrutiny.

The measure would eliminate state authority to review and regulate isolated wetlands, which are wetlands not connected to navigable waters, such as rivers and lakes. The bill would require land owners and developers to replace the natural wetlands they are filling with man-made wetlands at a ratio of 1.2 acres to 1 acre. However, the Department of Natural Resources would no longer have the authority to do an environmental review and assess the ecological impacts of such projects.

Supporters of the proposal say the 2001 state law that protects isolated wetlands is too prohibitive because it classifies empty lots and farm fields with potholes and other depressions as wetlands because they retain rainwater.

GOP Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, of Kaukauna, said the bill was pushed by the business community, and that current law was too restrictive on landowners and the construction industry for developing marginal land. The bill’s sponsors are Steineke, Rep. Rob Stafsholt, of New Richmond, and Senate President Roger Roth, of Appleton. Roth’s family owns a construction company. Stafsholt is a farmer and owns a rental and real estate investment business.

The proposal could affect up to one million acres of the state’s 5.3 million acres of wetlands, Erin O’Brien, the Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s policy director, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Wetlands are ecologically valuable because they filter water, control flooding and are wildlife habitats.

The measure is backed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group, which claimed it struck a balance between economic development and protecting high quality wetlands.

WMC secretly raised and spent an estimated $18.6 million since January 2010 on outside electioneering activities to support Republican and conservative legislative and statewide candidates. WMC spent an estimated $220,000 to help elect Roth to the Senate in 2014.

WMC also represents more than a dozen special interests, including business, real estate, and construction, which contributed $16.7 million since January 2011 to current Republican legislators. Republicans comfortably control the legislature with a 20-13 majority in the Senate and a 64-35 majority in the Assembly.