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Opponents, Supporters Spend Hours Debating Kohler Wetlands Permit

Contested Case Review Of Golf Course Plan Ends With Public Hearing

Kohler-Andrae State Park
Kohler-Andrae State Park near Sheboygan. Mike & Molly Ⓥ (CC-BY-NC-ND)

A four-hour public hearing Friday in Sheboygan focused on the recent approval by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of a wetlands permit for a controversial golf course the Kohler Company wants to build along Lake Michigan.

The testimony came at the end of a five-day contested case hearing before a state administrative law judge.

Opponents of the golf course that would be built mainly on Kohler Co. property next to Kohler-Andrae State Park brought the challenge. Opponents say the DNR didn’t properly consider the potential damage to wetlands and failed to help the public get enough information.

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Former Park Superintendent Jim Buchholz said at the hearing that the DNR has approved changing 47 small wetlands.

“To my knowledge, the actual location of these wetlands and the type of wetlands to be altered and filled were not adequately identified to the public by map, or other means that I’m aware of,” Buchholz said, noting that the Kohler Co. has added security measures to keep people off its land.

Representatives of several business groups defended the DNR’s work, and praised the projected economic benefits of a fifth Kohler-owned golf course in the area.

Dane Checolinski, of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp., said the DNR properly reviewed the case, and the golf course would be a plus for the state park.

“We are looking forward to development of this public golf course and believe it can co-exist next to and helping to promote the Kohler-Andrae State Park as an added economic recreational benefit,” Checolinski said.

Claudia Bricks, of the Friends of the Black River Forest, which has fought the golf course for five years, said she sat through the entire week of the contested case hearing, including hours of expert testimony and questions by lawyers for her group, the DNR and the Kohler Co.

“Virtually everyone in this room, all week long, has been paid to be here. I wasn’t,” Bricks said. “I’m here for the people who had to work, and couldn’t be here. I’m here for the land. I’m here for the wildlife and the plants.”

A decision by the administrative law judge may be issued this fall. Meanwhile, work on the golf course is on hold.