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Lake Kegonsa

An extensive rewrite of water protection laws passes out of committee despite misgivings by environmental groups and at least one member of the Legislature’s Republican majority.


An Assembly committee Tuesday recommended passage of a major revision of laws protecting state lakes, streams and groundwater.

On a party-line vote, the majority Republicans on the Committee on Environment and Forestry approved AB 600, a far-reaching proposal aimed at strengthening the rights of waterfront property owners and developers who want to build on wetlands.

Republicans pushing the bill said current laws and the way they are enforced by the state Department of Natural Resources have infringed unfairly on the freedom of property owners.

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, said the bill was well-intentioned and amendments made after a public hearing last month persuaded him to vote for it in committee.

But Kitchens said he wants to see further changes to provisions that would make it easier to dig up and remove soil or rock on a shoreline or in a lake bed before he will vote for it on the Assembly floor.

“The dredging part still has a way to go,” Kitchens said.

Committee Democrats expressed no optimism that the bill could be amended to their liking.

Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said AB 600 was the worst bill of a legislative session that has been marked by a series of bills introduced by Republicans, who control state government, without much heed to Democrats.

“It’s just, ‘We’ve got the power and we’ve got control and we’re going to do what we please,’ ” Hebl said.

The committee chairman, Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivitz, noted that the bill’s author, Balsam Lake Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow, met with conservation groups that oppose the legislation and business lobbyists who support it after a Jan. 5 public hearing drew strong condemnation from environmentalists.

The bill changes the method the state Department of Natural Resources would use to determine if a business development may be allowed to fill a wetland.

Under current law, a developer may be required to purchase other land to avoid the wetland, but the bill would require a developer to move a project only to land already owned in certain circumstances.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 459, still faces a public hearing and a vote in committee before the full Senate would consider it.

‘It’s just, ‘We’ve got the power and we’ve got control and we’re going to do what we please.’ ’ Rep. Gary Hebl
D-Sun Prairie

Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.