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Senate committee OKs bill allowing wetland permit exemptions

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans gave a favorable recommendation on Thursday to a revamped bill that would allow builders to fill marshes and swamps without first obtaining a permit, clearing the way for a full Senate floor vote.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy voted 3-2 to approve the bill. All three Republicans on the panel voted for the proposals. The panel’s two Democrats, Mark Miller and Dave Hansen, voted against it, warning the proposal would hasten the loss of wetlands and lead to more flooding and habitat destruction.

“I believe … this bill, even as amended, fails to fulfill our constitutional obligation to protect the waters of Wisconsin,” Miller said.

Sen. Robert Cowles, the committee chairman and chief author of the revisions, said the legislation would strike a balance between allowing business expansion and protecting the environment.

Republicans and their business and construction allies has long complained that development is slowed by the state Department of Natural Resources’ permit procedures for filling wetlands.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Senate President Roger Roth introduced a bill last fall that would have let developers fill state wetlands throughout the state. Conservation groups and hunting and fishing groups balked at the proposal.

Steineke walked the bill back, releasing an amendment that would allow developers to build on urban wetlands and up to three acres for each parcel of rural wetland without first obtaining permits. Conservation groups didn’t budge, saying the changes would still lead to a loss of untold wetland acres.

Cowles tried to reach a compromise, releasing a third version of the bill that would reduce the amount of urban wetlands developers could fill without a permit and require mitigation if they destroyed more than 10,000 square feet. The committee approved that version on Thursday after Ducks Unlimited and Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, Inc., announced they were taking neutral stances toward the bill. Both groups had registered in opposition to Steineke’s amendment.

Steineke has said he supports Cowles’ changes. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said the full chamber will most likely vote on the bill on Feb. 20.

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