Controversial legislation regarding commercial development near Lambeau Field is ready for Governor Scott Walker’s signature, but whether or not the measure can succeed in it’s stated goal – attracting a national outdoors retailer to the site – remains to be seen. The bill would allow an auto dealer to fill in about an acre-and-a-half of wetland near Lambeau Field – without a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. Paul Kent, an attorney representing car dealer John Bergstrom, testified before a state Senate committee on Tuesday. “We’re simply attempting to expedite bringing construction jobs and permanent jobs . . . to facilitate redevelopment of an urban corridor on a project that’s already obtained DNR approval,” said Kent. The project, which would entail filling approximately one and-a-half acres of wetland, has been permitted by the DNR, but that was contested by the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy hearing before an administrative rules judge.
The centerpiece of the project, and the piece of the development which would require that the wetland be filled, was to have been a Bass Pro Shops store, although the Missouri based outdoors retailer has reportedly withdrawn from the project, after being made aware of the wetland fill. “The project as presented to DNR was that this would be filled to meet the needs, and to develop a Bass Pro Shop,” said Carl Sinderbrand, a Madison attorney who serves on the association’s board. “Apparently, there was little to no discussion to Bass Pro Shop about whether they wanted to be here.” Sinderbrand told the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Tuesday that the decision by Bass Pro Shops meant that “there is no project,” and said legislative involvement in the process is inappropriate. “You’re being asked to decide a case, to debate the merits of a case. That has never been the role of the legislature, nor should it be.”
Governor Scott Walker, who directed that the bill be drafted, has cited the case as an issue of environmental concerns getting in he way of economic development, which is why he included the bill in his special session on jobs and the economy. “This is our Ashley furniture moment,” said Walker, referring to the long process that firm underwent before being granted DNR permits to fill in 13.5 acres of wetlands near it’s Arcadia factory in 2005. “We’re not going to have an Ashley Furniture moment, where the DNR and the state fail to create that balance, and those jobs go to some other state,” Walker said. “In this instance, we’re going to show that we can balance the two together.”
Proponents of the project, in the Village of Ashwaubenon, say that balance can be achieved through mitigation – creating wetlands elsewhere to replace those that are being filled in. Attorney Kent said Bergstrom would agree to preserve nearly 8 acres of remaining wetlands on the site, remove invasive species, and update the stormwater runoff management, in addition to creating or restoring 4 acres of wetlands on separate property in the vicinity. “This creation of alternative wetland areas is well above the standard one point-five acres to one under DNR rules,” said Kent. “We’re going to be creating approximately two and-a-half to one, for the wetland that’s impacted here.”
But Erin O’Brien with the Wisconsin Wetlands Association argued before the committee that the wetland is worth preserving intact. “It’s not a trash heap or a mud puddle or a junk wetland or overrun with invasive species,” O’Brien said. “It is some of the best of what’s left in Brown County, particularly in an urban area.”
After Tuesday’s public hearing, the Senate committee voted on the bill Wednesday morning. The special session measure was then voted on by the full Senate that same afternoon, bypassing the usual route through the Senate Organization Committee. It received the vote of one vote – Green Bay Senator Dave Hansen, and just one Democrat in the Assembly – Representative Mark Radcliffe of Black River Falls – when that chamber voted Wednesday evening. The bill is now ready for Walker’s signature.