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Senate approves ‘watered down’ development bill

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Senate voted Tuesday to scale back a bill that would ease the regulatory path for developers looking to build on bodies of water, sending the revised measure back to the Assembly for approval.

The Republican bill would make sweeping changes to statutes and regulations governing construction in water bodies.

One of the key provisions removed through an amendment Tuesday would have created a general permit authorizing shoreline property owners to dredge 25 cubic yards of material from an inland lake and 100 cubic yards of material from outlying waters annually.

“I think the final product is a decent product,” said Senate natural resources chairman Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, who introduced the amendment Friday. He said he took out a number of provisions that weren’t fully vetted.

Another section of the bill reduces the types of water bodies that could be designated as areas of special natural resource interests, or ASNRIs. Developers looking to build in ASNRIs must meet a long list of permit standards.

Right now, ASNRIs can include waters of significant value scientific value that contain endangered or threatened species, wild rice waters, ecologically significant coastal wetlands along Lakes Michigan and Superior and wild or scenic rivers. The bill would remove the requirement that an ASNRI have significant scientific value and prevent the Department of Natural Resources from designating a water body as an ASNRI without legislative approval beginning in 2017.

Cowles’ amendment further restricts the types of water bodies that could be designated as ASNRIs to wild rice waters, coastal wetlands, wild or scenic rivers or other so-called sensitive areas that contain critical or unique fish and wildlife habitat or offer erosion control.

The bill’s authors contend the measure will cut red tape, clarify regulations and empower property owners. The Assembly passed the bill last week over complaints from Democrats that the measure would hurt the state’s waters and result in shoreline owners digging up truckloads of lake bed.

Senate Democrats criticized the late changes, but Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Kenosha, called it a “better bill.”

The natural resources committee adopted the amendment on a 3-2 vote Monday and the Senate passed the amended bill 19-13 Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman Kit Beyer said the chamber is expected to take up the revised bill Thursday. Both houses must pass identical legislation before it can go to Gov. Scott Walker.

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