Legislation which rewrites wetland protections received a public hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday. The Wisconsin Wetlands Association has worked with lawmakers on the bill’s language, and while they have concerns, they’re not writing it off. Tracy Hames is the group’s executive director. “We have provided recommendations that we think address these concerns that we have,” Hames tells members of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources. “Though they’re serious concerns, we feel this bill is repairable, that if we work together, we can come up with the solutions to these problems that we have.”
Builders and Realtors have also been involved in drafting the bill. Jerry Deschane is with the Wisconsin Builders Association. “What’s missing right now is that DNR reviewers have to put blinders on, when they consider a wetland permit application,” says Deschane. “The only question that really matters is whether your project could be built somewhere else.”
DNR staff testified that the bill (AB 463) would allow permits in up to eighty percent of wetland fill applications to be granted in just 30 days. “This streamlining will allow us to focus staff time on twenty percent of the projects that involve greater impacts” on wetlands, says the agency’s Ken Johnston. But Democratic lawmakers noted that last year, the DNR granted ninety-three percent of such permits in just 20 days. ‘We all expect efficiency from the department,” state Representative Louis Molepske, a Stevens Point Democrat, tells the bill’s author, Representative Jeff Mursau, a Crivitz Republican. “If 93 percent of permits are being approved in 22 days, how more efficient do you want the department to be? Your own bill actually extends the window to 30 days.”
Proponents of the legislation say the changes are needed to expedite the permitting process and allow greater flexibility. Opponents fear it will undermine wetland protections.