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Friends of the Black River Forest's mission is to promote the preservation of the Black River biome within a unique Central Wisconsin Lake Michigan Coastal Landscape and the adjoining Lake Michigan shore as an ecological whole.
The Kohler Company would like to develop its 247 forested acres along the shore of Lake Michigan into a championship golf course. This proposed course would decimate ALL the unique features within an ecosystem containing Kohler Andrae State Park. To make room for the greens, 75% of Kohler’s 247 acres will be clear cut—that’s 180 acres of trees, vegetation and habitat leveled. Rare, functional wetlands will be filled, and wildlife populations will be reduced to that of an older subdivision. Over time, thousands of pounds of pesticides and fertilizer applied over stripped land on a shallow sand-based aquifer will impact groundwater and the Lake.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources granted the necessary Wetland Fill Permit to Kohler without sufficient review of its impacts to our environment and resources. It also gave Kohler prime land from our beloved Kohler Andrae State Park in a contrived maneuver to skirt Federal Land and Water Conservation Act requirements designed to preserve this for the public. This land, taken from residents by eminent domain in the 60’s, has been preserved without any disturbance because of its ecological significance. It will now be razed for the Kohler golf course’s 22,500 sq. ft. pesticide mixing, and machine and fuel storage areas. Lastly, the DNR has given easements to reconstruct the entrance to the park with a rotary and cut a road going north across this prime land and into the course. Kohler-Andrae State Park welcomes over 430,000 annual visitors, making it one of Wisconsin’s most visited and popular parks.
Our group, “Friends of the Black River Forest”, challenged the DNR in 2018 and won a judgment from a state Administrative Law Judge who revoked the Wetland Fill Permit issued to Kohler by the DNR. The judge cited the incomplete review of impacts to groundwater. Kohler has appealed this. The state has also awarded us reimbursement of our attorney and court costs as we prevailed against the state. The DNR refuses to reimburse us for these costs with the reasoning that it would have to come out of their wetland protection and preservation funds.
Beyond our legal efforts to address the incomplete wetland fill permit, we have also challenged the DNR and the Natural Resources Board in court for their improper actions related to the land swap granting prime state park land to Kohler. After the DNR and Kohler Company challenged our standing to bring the suit, an appellate court overturned two circuit court decisions and affirmed our right to standing, particularly regarding environmental concerns. The DNR, Wisconsin Department of Justice, and Kohler have recently asked the state Supreme Court to review this. This review, if it goes forward, is critical to the rights of Wisconsin residents to challenge a state agency’s decisions regarding our common resources.
Kohler’s land used to be within the town of Wilson, where Friends began. The Town Board had been in negotiations to have the Kohler Company complete its Conditional Use Application. The Wilson Plan Commission would have expected Kohler to subject its plan to an environmental impact study reviewed by experts. Kohler secretly arranged annexation to the City of Sheboygan to avoid Wilson’s adherence to its ordinances. The company bought houses and installed renters in order to gather signatures needed to petition the City of Sheboygan for annexation. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Department of Administration, City of Sheboygan, and Kohler met without the Town of Wilson to create justification for this annexation of land miles from the city adjacent to the state park. The Supreme Court sided with the City. On December 15, 2020, the Sheboygan Plan Commission (now with the proposed golf course within its limits), voted against its own ordinances, without environmental review, to approve a Conditional Use permit for the Kohler course. As we wait to see if the Wisconsin Supreme Court will affirm our legal standing in relation to the land swap, we MUST continue to educate others on the rare and necessary features of this ecosystem, before it’s too late.
Throughout our state, thousands of kitchen table activists like Friends, are fighting against those who buy and sell our resources for their own profits. Like most grassroots groups, we finance our educational efforts and pay for legal challenges through small donations, grants and brat frys. After seven years of battle, we are still here, and the golf course isn’t. We are determined to ensure corporate power and political influence do not cause irreparable damage to this historic, one-of-a-kind ecosystem.
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