Judge blocks golf course permit, preserving rare ecosystems in Wisconsin
On May 28th, 2021, a Wisconsin judge denied the Kohler Co.’s request to reinstate a development permit for a golf course, previously granted to them from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in 2017.
The Friends of Black River Forest challenged the permit decision claiming that the environmental impact statement was incomplete and had some factual inconsistencies when it came to assessing secondary impacts of the golf course. An administrative law judge threw out the original permit, after finding that the WDNR lacked sufficient information to grant the permit. The company sought to have the permit reinstated in court and another administrative law judge threw out the permit request again.
According to Mary Faydash, a spokesperson of Friends of Black River Forest, “this decision affirms the ALJ’s conclusion that the DNR should not rely on vague promises to protect groundwater and wetlands from golf course development and operation”. Freshwater Future assisted Friends of Black River Forest by providing them a grant in 2018 to help the organization provide the expert testimony and legal review for the preservation of these unique wetlands. They were also recently awarded another grant from Freshwater Future to help continue their legal efforts in preserving wetlands and holding water regulatory agencies accountable.
The proposed golf course planned to fill in nearly 4 acres of wetlands and eliminate nearly 250 acres of habitats that are rare and unique to the region and the world. The property contains interdunal wetlands that provide habitat, resting areas, and nesting places for many uncommon plant species and migratory birds. Wetlands help filter water before entering underground water reservoirs, which are used for drinking water. By filling in these wetlands, the groundwater becomes more susceptible to contamination from the additional pollution and chemicals that the golf course would be producing as runoff. Wetlands also help to reduce stormwater runoff and control flooding. The increase of extreme rain events, due to climate change, are making the need for wetlands even more essential.These were some of the factors that failed to be considered when the permit was granted, which were also presented during the court hearing.
Faydash states that the next step for the Friends of Black River Forest is to take an educational path to help inform the community about why these habitats need to be preserved. Knowledge is power, and the best way to help preserve the environment is to stay informed.