SHEBOYGAN — A state appeals court upheld the revocation of Kohler Company's wetlands fill permit, denying the company to develop a golf course near the Lake Michigan shoreline.
According to the Sierra Club, the country's largest grassroots environmental organization, in a 2018 ruling, a judge stated the Kohler's Environmental Impact Statement, the basis for the Wetland Fill Permit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued to the company that would allow it to begin construction, was founded not on “scientific facts and definitive plans, but speculation and promises.”
Kohler appealed the decision, and the District III Court of Appeals concurred with the judge's reversal. Kohler again appealed, but on Tuesday, the appellate court upheld the judge's finding. The twice-revoked wetland permit was all that was holding up the 18-hole public course.
The Sierra Club said the court affirmed: "key information was missing in the permit application, including nutrient and pesticide pollution and cumulative impacts of the project."
The grassroots organization is now calling on Gov. Tony Evers to send the "land swap" decision back to the Natural Resources Board. They said in part, "The land swap traded prime habitat of the public park to Kohler company in exchange for poorer quality land. It is precedent-setting for public land to be traded away to private companies for development, and the Governor should make sure that this cannot happen again."
As NBC 26 previously reported, in a 2014 land swap deal under former Gov. Scott Walker, the company received Kohler-Andrae State Park land including woods, wetlands, and sand dunes. The space would be used to build a parking lot, road, and maintenance facility.
Sierra Club and Sheboygan-based grassroots group Friends of the Black River Forest are hoping Kohler Company will drop its plans for building "yet another golf course" in the area.
"If Kohler returns with a more thorough permit application, we will urge the DNR to reject the permit due to the negative impact that the golf course will have. We are committed to supporting Friends of the Black River Forest in making sure that the park and the lakeshore are protected in perpetuity," Sierra Club - Wisconsin Chapter Senior Campaign Coordinator Cassie Steiner said.
The two groups previously held a rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol and delivered 25,000 petitions to Gov. Evers' office to protest the plan.
Before this week's decision, Kohler Co. previously shared in a statement:
“We are committed to creating a world-class golf course that respects the property’s natural character and surrounding community and opens private land to the public for the first time. Our company has an established track record of sound environmental stewardship with a commitment to following all applicable municipal, state, and federal regulations. All along, our approach has been to avoid, minimize and mitigate potential impacts and to enhance adjacent park facilities.
Our intention with this public golf course is for it to be an asset to our region, offering many benefits for the City of Sheboygan, including an expanded tax base, new tax revenues, and over 200 new jobs. This is a good project that makes sense for the community and its future by continuing to elevate the area’s growing reputation as a great place for tourists to visit and residents to live and raise their families.”