A controversial bill which will reduce protections for state wetlands have been approved by state Senate. This bill permits builders to fill certain wetlands without any permit. The bill was passed by the Senate on party lines. All Republicans supported the bill and it was opposed by all Democrats.
The bill was authored by Jim Steineke, an elected Republican from Kaukauna and the Assembly Majority Leader. The co-author was Roger Roth, a GOP from Appleton, and who is also the president of the Senate.
According to Republicans, this bill is required as the present permit process for wetland development is a time-consuming and cumbersome process. These can continue for many months, costing developers thousands of dollars. These expenses are then pushed on to the business owners and residents. The latter pays more for services rendered. The Republican measure has found support from powerful business groups which operate in the region.
On the opposite side of the fence are the conservation groups and Democrats. These includes Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Wisconsin Wildlife Wetlands Association. As per the conservation groups, if the bill is passed, thousands of acres of fertile wetlands would be destroyed. These wetlands presently serve as natural flood barriers and wildlife habitat. They also act as filters for the water pollutants.
Affected wetlands are those near the urban areas. Counties with affected wetlands include Racine, Brown, Kenosha, Dane, and Douglas. A few conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited removed or softened their opposition to this bill post an announced amendment which restricts its scope. Senator Rob Cowles, a Republican from Green Bay, provided the amendment. It scaled back the scope of the bill which removes protections solely from the wetlands which are within the half mile of any populated area. All other wetlands will be protected as per federal standards.
As per the amended bill, protection will be removed for wetlands consisting of one acre or less land parcels. The amended version takes away the requirement where wetlands can only be used if they can be replaced or exempted from regulation.
The Wisconsin Wetlands Association showed scientific research which clearly exhibited that the value of any wetland could not be determined by size. This bill would permit the continued regulation of the small wetlands in case they are of high quality or “rare” ones. These can be found out as per limited definition involving plant life and location.