The Natural Resources Board today signed off on a land trade deal between Kohler Co. and DNR that would give the company more than four acres of state park land next to a planned golf course.
Board members approved the trade via two separate voice votes. The DNR would get 9.5 acres of land on the western side of the Kohler-Andrae State Park, located in Sheboygan County along Lake Michigan.
The decision, board member Greg Kazmierski said after the vote, shows board members “want to send the message that we’re willing to partner with environmentally conscious businesses.”
A Feb. 16 memo from DNR Secretary Daniel Meyer to Gov. Scott Walker shows the 9.5 acre parcel Kohler would give the DNR is valued at $295,000, while the 4.59 acres along the northern edge of the park Kohler would get is valued at $59,700. Kohler would also obtain 1.88 acres, valued at $9,400, for an easement to the main entrance road to the park.
Still, both motions received dissenting votes as members weighed the trade off.
“It’s a tough call in my mind to say this isn’t useful for conservation purposes and that line has bothered me since day one,” said board member Gary Zimmer, referencing a line in the first motion that said the 4.59-acre parcel DNR would be giving up “is no longer needed for the state’s use for conservation purposes.”
But others argued the park wouldn’t be harmed by the deal.
Vice-Chair Frederick Prehn noted DNR officials have said the land is primarily used for park maintenance purposes.
“This is 4.59 (acres) of an area that already has maintenance trucks on it,” he said.
Prior to the board’s vote late this morning, the proposal got mixed support from a series of speakers, with some arguing the land swap would give away acreage valuable to species inhabiting the land and ultimately hurt the park’s ecosystem.
“The park’s sand dune system should be protected from private or profit development,” said Menomonee Falls resident Robert Rice.
But backers, noting Kohler has pledged to construct new electronic kiosks and a third lane into the park, argued the deal was a good one that would benefit the park overall.
William Sasse, a staffer in GOP Rep. Tyler Vorpagel’s office, said the new 18-hole golf course would give an economic boost to the area.
“This proposal will further enhance Sheboygan’s reputation as a destination for tourists,” he said.
Meanwhile, DNR Bureau Director Ben Bergey said the project wouldn’t “change the recreation experience for the thousands of people that visit the park each year.”
DNR officials today also pushed back against concerns from some that the deal would set a precedent going forward.
Noting that the agency has completed 25 land exchanges over the past five years, Internal Services Division Administrator Doug Haag said there’s “no precedent here,l; we will follow the statutes.”
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