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Proposal Would Allow Building On Wetlands Without State Permits

GOP Plan Would Eliminate Permits For Non-Federal Wetlands In Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol
Rough Tough, Real Stuff (CC-BY-NC-ND)

A proposed bill in the state Capitol would allow anyone to build on certain wetlands in Wisconsin without a permit.

The plan would eliminate state permits for building on wetlands that aren’t regulated by the federal government, which accounts for about 20 percent of the wetlands in the state.

Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, is one of the bill’s sponsors. He argues the change would eliminate unnecessary red tape for builders, while keeping some protections in place.

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“I know environmentalists will try to make this sound like it’s the end of the world, but the vast majority of states, 46 or 47 other states, don’t regulate these at all,” he said.

A state requirement that calls for builders to recreate 1.2 acres of wetland for every acre they build on would still be state law.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce threw their support behind the proposal Monday, saying it honors business and conservation interests.

“This legislation strikes an important balance that will enhance economic development in our state while also protecting and enhancing high quality wetlands,” said WMC Director of Environmental and Energy Policy Lucas Vebber, in a prepared statement. “This is a true win-win for all Wisconsinites.”

But a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association argues eliminating natural wetlands and recreating them elsewhere could lead to flooding and hurt animal habitats.

“Anyone can build in any one of these wetlands as long as they write a check for restoration to occur someplace else,” said Erin O’Brien, policy program director at the association. “I would not characterize it as a reform, I would characterize it as a revocation of existing protections.”

O’Brien argued existing regulation encourages builders to consider the environmental makeup of a land parcel before they build on it, and gives the state Department of Natural Resources the necessary opportunity to deny building permits if construction would cause undue harm to the land and local environment.

She said eliminating those aspects of wetland permitting would do more harm than good.

“That’s not a balanced approach – that’s winner takes all,” she said.

The bill is being circulated for co-sponsorship among legislators. It has yet to be introduced.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with original reporting from WPR at 5:26 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, 2017.