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Senate panel to tackle wetlands proposals

A panel of Wisconsin Senate lawmakers will hear testimony on Wednesday on a bill to limit the mitigation steps developers have to take when their work causes materials to be discharged into wetlands.

Under current law, a person or company must apply for a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources before discharging let developers fill or dredged material into certain wetlands. If the DNR then decides additional restrictions to the discharge are needed, the applicant won’t be able to get a permit without making plans to restore, establish or preserve other wetlands. These steps, known collectively as mitigation, are meant to compensate for any harm the resulting discharges might cause.

There are three ways mitigation can now be accomplished: by buying credits from a so-called mitigation bank in Wisconsin, by making payments to the DNR or another entity that would go toward the mitigation of wetlands elsewhere or by taking all the required mitigation steps in the same watershed or within a half-mile of the discharge.

Senate Bill 816 would require that those options be limited so that the required mitigation would only have to take place in what the legislation deems “the compensation search area” of a wetland affected by such a discharge. The bill defines a “compensation search area” as an area taking in the surrounding county, land within a 20-mile radius of an affected wetland and something known as a geographic management unit, which the DNR establishes by encompassing account the state’s major river basins.

The bill also calls for changes to how the DNR regulates mitigation banks. The full Assembly approved its version of SB 816 last week.

The hearing before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday in Room 201 Southeast of the state Capitol.

SB 816 is only one among several wetland proposals that the state Legislature is advancing this year. Earlier this month, both the Assembly and Senate approved a bill that would fill wetlands under certain circumstances without first getting a permit.

Assembly Bill 547 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 to 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. To become law, AB 547 now only needs the governor’s signature.

Also at Wednesday’s committee hearing, lawmakers plan to vote on two other proposals concerning the state’s wetland laws. The first, SB 789, would let a person who owns waterfront property remove certain materials from the bed of an inland navigable water under a prescribed set of circumstances without getting a permit from DNR.

Separately, SB 747 would exempt people from having to get permits from the DNR in order to do certain shoreline-maintenance work in certain parts of the state. The types of work in question include mowing, leveling sand and removing debris. The Assembly version of that bill was approved by the full chamber last week.

About Erika Strebel

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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