A special session bill would provide for sweeping revisions of the process for the Department of Natural Resources to issue permits. Although a public hearing on the measure at the Capitol on Wednesday was seen by many as being about mining, the bill’s author, state Senator Neil Kedzie, insisted that wasn’t the case. “There’s been a misconception, misinformation that has gone out over the media, and we’ve received several calls and I’m sure many of you have also that this is a mining bill or what’s being called the mining bill,” said Kedzie. “There is no mining bill at this time. When you see it, you’ll know that it’s the mining bill. This is not it.”
The bill (SB/AB 24) does have to do with the issuance of permits by the DNR on everything from piers to high capacity wells. Kedzie, a Republican from Elkhorn was questioned by state Representative Brett Hulsey, who said the vast majority of permits are now granted in a timely manner. “Where’s the problem here? Ninety seven and a half percent permits granted. I just don’t understand what problem that’s trying to solve,” said Hulsey, a Madison Democrat. “Well for one thing, we’ve never put it into statute,” said Kedzie. “We’ve been after the department for years to speed up their process of permits and reviewing.”
The special session bill reduces the window for public hearings on major projects and mandates automatic permit approvals if the DNR fails to act within 30 days — known as “presumptive approval.”
Much of the question and answer between Kedzie and members of the Senate and Assembly Natural Resources committees had to do with piers. “If you haven’t had complaints from people in your area, then you have no water,” said Kedzie, adding that issues with property owners being unable to obtain pier permits have been going on for far too long. “The DNR is not in the position to be the pier police,” he said. “They could spend the agency’s entire personnel and money just on that one issue.”
But state Senator Jim Holperin, whose northern Wisconsin districts includes a large number of lakes. doubted the changes will do much to address concerns and complaints. “It’s not going to get rid of the pier police,” said Holperin. “It’s not going to get rid of the ambiguity, it’s not going to get rid of the complaints. We’re just going to have a new set of complaints over a new set of rules.” Holperin suggested ENDING state permitting of piers altogether, and using the money saved from that on an education program. “If we do put together a program, we’ll call it pier pressure,” joked Kedzie.
AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:60)