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Assembly to vote on wetland permit exemptions bill

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans were scheduled to begin the end game Thursday for a bill that would allow developers to fill some state wetlands without permits, scheduling an Assembly floor vote.

The GOP controls the chamber, making adoption all but certain. Approval would send the bill to the state Senate, which has already scheduled a floor vote next week. From the Senate, the bill would go to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

Republicans and their allies in the construction and real-estate industries have long complained that the state Department of Natural Resources’ wetland development permit process is too onerous and stymies business expansion.

The bill would prevent builders from having to get a permit to fill urban wetlands, defined as wetlands within a half-mile of a municipality or an area with a sewer system. Builders who destroy more than 10,000 square feet would have to mitigate that loss by building a new wetland elsewhere, buying credits from a mitigation bank or paying into a DNR wetland restoration fund.

Builders also would be allowed to fill up 3 acres for each parcel of rural wetlands without a permit if the project were related to an agricultural structure. Developers would have to mitigate losses of more than 1.5 acres.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed developers to fill any state wetland without a permit. Republicans walked that back after conservation groups had railed against it, saying it would lead to the widespread destruction of wildlife habitat and exacerbate flooding. Wetlands act as a natural sponge, soaking up excess precipitation.

A long list of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, still oppose the scaled-down version. Ducks Unlimited and Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, two of the original bill’s most well-known opponents, have shifted to a neutral stance after reviewing the changes.

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