West Bend Airport Plans Stalled… Briefly

West Bend Airport Plans Stalled… Briefly

The proposed expansion of the controversial West Bend airport, and relocation and widening of State Highway 33, have met with a significant obstacle-wetlands! Whereas the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) was confident early this summer that it would be issuing its “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) and a final Environmental Assessment (EA) that would essentially be the “green light” for the airport project, a sternly worded letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has halted the project, at least for the moment.

In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Minneapolis, EPA expressed significant concerns with the draft Environmental Assessment as issued by the DOT. They cite the direct loss of 54 acres of wetlands and additional impacts to 44 acres of trees (including 18 acres of forested wetlands) as worrisome, and mention that no mitigation had been proposed for these significant losses. The EPA has proposed to FAA the development of a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project if it moves forward as written, but indicates that “we would object to the Corps [Army Corps of Engineers] issuing a Clean Water Act Section 404 [wetland fill] permit for this proposal.” In their lengthy analysis of the EA, the EPA indicated that water quality issues associated with the adjoining Milwaukee River had not been adequately addressed.

There is considerable momentum for completion of this project in the City of West Bend, and we fully expect to see a reworked airport expansion proposal sometime in late winter. In the meantime, WWA is helping a local citizens group-Taxpayers Against Airport Growth (TAAG)-challenge the airport project in its entirety.WWA staff have attended several TAAG meetings to discuss options with local landowners and concerned citizens. Furthermore, we have visited landowner properties to see what is at stake.

Extensive floodplain forested wetlands and marshland will be cleared and paved if the airport and highway expansion are approved.We have considerable concern for water quality and flooding of the Milwaukee River, as well as the direct and irreversible destruction of nearly 100 acres of wetlands. The project would undoubtedly result in serious downstream impacts in the greater Milwaukee metropolitan region. Furthermore, the airport project would represent the largest single wetland loss for any construction site in Wisconsin since 1991… and the DOT has suggested that there is no significant impact!

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.