Wisconsin

Rep. Jim Steineke Defends “Common Sense” Wetland Reform Bill

The wetland reform bill that was introduced in September is now becoming the target of leftist environmentalists. The Wisconsin State Journal spoke with several environmental activists who argued, among other things, that the change in regulations would destroy natural wildlife habitats in the state. Media Tracker’s Director of Communications Jerry Bader interviewed bill co-author, assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, on how the legislation will help business and homeowners, while maintaining federal wetlands and current mitigation laws.

Media Trackers covered the initial introduction of the bill in September. Wisconsin is just one of a few states that has regulations regarding isolated wetlands, and easing these regulations would help real-estate and property development and save money on meeting these regulations.  Rep. Steineke stressed that this bill would not impact high quality wetlands:

“Under current law Wisconsin is one of only three states that regulate non-federal wetlands the way we do, and its a very onerous process. It’s time consuming and expensive not only for developers but for homeowners as well, and it just adds to the cost of construction. About twenty-five percent of the cost of a new home is because of regulation either state or federal, so what we’re trying to do is reduce that regulatory burden, still protect high quality wetlands, the federal wetlands eighty percent, are still protected.”

“The isolated wetlands, ninety-nine percent of these permits get approved anyway, so what we’re doing is just saying listen let’s be smart about this, not add a bunch of hoops and hurdles that cost homeowners more money. It would still require mitigation, which a vast majority of other states don’t, but allow the process to become more efficient and less costly.”

 

While the bill only pertains to non-federal  and “artificial” wetlands, Kyle Rorah, government affairs representative for Ducks Unlimited told the Journal:  “We’re going to see a lot of key wildlife habitat disappear with the stroke of a pen.” Steineke told Bader that’s not the case:

 “They aren’t the lush flowing grasses and the bird and duck habitats or the marshes holding water, these are like when your driving down the road and see a farm field and there’s eight foot corn in one place, and two foot corn in another, that area of depression in a farm field, those are considered wetlands under current law. Those are routinely filled and the permits are granted under a regular basis, not anything anybody would really consider wetlands. And in turn for filling those in we’re requiring developers to create 1.2 acres of new wetlands for every acre of wetlands that they disturb.”

“What they’re concerned about it is those high quality habitats, nobody wants to see those filled in and any developer worth his salt isn’t going to fill those anyway. First of all, even if you filled it in it still wouldn’t be suitable for building, and if you did fill it in it would be too cost prohibitive, not only the amount of fill you’d have to bring in to fill those in, but then mitigating those in at 1.2 acres for every one acre created can cost anywhere from 50-100,000 dollars per acre to mitigate those. Developers are going to avoid those high quality wetlands to begin with.”

 

The Wisconsin State Journal also quoted Tracy Hames, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, who argued these wetlands help in the event of “extreme rain events” as they help soak up water, but again Steinke stressed that the wetlands that the bill targets are low quality and mitigating them will create better wetlands that could help in these situations:

“It’s a great point, that’s one of the things that we’re trying to get at with this. Again we’re taking these low quality wetlands that really don’t have any storm water holding capacity and we’re going to turn those into better higher quality wetlands by mitigating them elsewhere. It’s just something that I think makes common sense.”

“Those aren’t the things we are talking about, we’re talking about these “wetlands” where they don’t have water storage capacity, where they just happen to have a certain soil type or a plant or two that qualifies them as wetlands therefore you can’t touch them. That’s what we’re really trying to get at.”

“I think at the end of the day we will create more wetlands that will have better capacity than they do under current law.”

 

While The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Wisconsin Wildlife Federation executive director George Meyer said that “business interests pushing for the bill have declined to meet with conservationists to seek a compromise,” Steineke told Media Trackers he has met with conservation groups and that they are looking to make a few changes to the bill that would help put critics of the bill more at ease:

“George has an agenda and I completely understand that, he’s more than welcome to that, but we have talked to sporting groups, we have talked to the wetlands association. We are working on changes cooperatively with some of those groups to make sure that their concerns are addressed without impacting the overall intent of the bill.”

He continued: “We are looking at making a couple of tweaks that will help assure people that these high quality wetlands won’t be disturbed because that’s not the intent to begin with, while at the same time making sure that develop-able lands are able to move forward without too many onerous regulations.”

 

Steineke reiterated that this bill would protect those high quality wetlands, and that adopting this bill would help homeowners and developers save money on unnecessary regulations:

“Twenty-five percent of the cost of a new home is tied up in regulations, I think in anyone’s standards that’s too high, so what we’re trying is attack those common sense areas where we can reduce regulations that don’t have a broader impact and make things less expensive not only for developers but at the end of the day homeowner’s are really the ones who pay for it.”

 

While the wetland reform debate is just getting started, repealing the mining moratorium is headed to the senate after it successfully passed the assembly. Steineke also spoke of his support on the bill and his belief that it will pass the senate:

“I feel confident they are going to pass that tomorrow, and hopefully in the not too distant future they’ll have really good paying jobs up in Northern Wisconsin.”

 

The full interview with Majority Leader Jim Steinke can be found here:

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