State News: Foxconn, Drones, Farmland Demand

Groups Challenge Foxconn Water Diversion Plan

Great Lakes groups have filed a legal challenge to Wisconsin’s approval of a water diversion plan needed to run the Foxconn liquid crystal display factory being built in Racine County. The state Department of Natural Resources approved a proposal last month that would allow Racine to take seven million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan, to be piped to the plant. Most of the water would go back to the lake after being treated in Racine’s wastewater plant.

Attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates said the legal action argues the DNR made a mistake by disregarding a requirement that diversions be for public water supply purposes, which she said is clearly defined as “serving a group of largely residential customers.”

“The integrity of the (Great Lakes Water Diversion Compact of 2008) is being tested by this misinterpretation, and we believe the compact is important enough to fight for,” she said.

The petitioners represented include Milwaukee Riverkeeper, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Habush Sinykin said having an administrative law judge in Wisconsin hear the case is a step allowed under the compact.

Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly said Foxconn’s water diversion wouldn’t harm Lake Michigan.


Civil War-Era Flag on Display in Green Bay

A 157-year-old flag went on display at Green Bay’s Neville Public Museum on May 29 and will remain there until October 2019. The rare flag with a “Great Star” pattern was hand-sewn by Green Bay-local Mattie Underwood for a rally at the beginning of the Civil War. It flew for a recruitment rally in the spring of 1861. And it is believed to have flown over what was Fort Howard in Wisconsin until possibly 1865.

Lisa Kain, museum curator at Neville Public Museum, said there was a special ceremony when the flag was raised at Fort Howard.

“It was one of the last flags to fly over Fort Howard,” she said, adding that the flag is a snapshot of history. “It’s a rare pattern, significant to that time period so that also makes it so special.”

The flag is approximately 12 feet in length and 8 feet tall. It is made of a cotton and/or linen blend and may still have its original rope. Kain said the red stripes are the most damaged, possibly because of the 19th century dye.

Kain recently re-discovered it in the museum’s archive, which includes more than 300,000 physical items.


Wisconsin Farm Land Demand Remains Strong

Strong demand for farmland in Wisconsin has continued this year. It’s keeping land prices steady despite low commodity prices and suffering farm incomes. The latest data from the state Department of Revenue showed a slight increase in land sales during the first four months of 2018.

“That surprised me,” said Arlin Brannstrom, associate professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I thought there would be some dampening in that enthusiasm for land ownership given the weak prices we’ve seen for agricultural commodities, in particular milk. But I think there’s still a lot of demand.”

Brannstrom said large dairy farms looking to expand continue to drive strong land prices in northeastern Wisconsin. But he said there is also more interest among investor groups looking to take advantage of the state’s steady land prices or to convert farmland to other uses.

Land prices were also strong in the southeastern part of the state.

“Of course, the southeast is the area where the new Foxconn plant is going in and there’s a lot of activity going on in that area to acquire the land for the plant,” Brannstrom said.


DNR Board OKs Large Conservation Easement

Plans by the state to spend $7.2 million on a large conservation easement in northwest Wisconsin have won approval by the Natural Resources Board.

The fast-moving proposal announced less than two weeks ago by Gov. Scott Walker would guarantee public hunting, fishing and trapping rights on nearly 21,000 acres of privately owned land near Hayward. The landowner could do sustainable timber harvesting.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is calling the project the Lake of the Pines Conservation Easement. DNR Real Estate Section Chief James Lemke said people would be able to drive on more than 20 miles of private roads. Lemke said a $515,000 endowment fund – part of the purchase price – will help maintain the roads.


Wisconsin Among Nation’s Leaders In Drone Use

Wisconsin is among three states nationwide that are seeing the highest use of drones by state and local public safety agencies. The number of police, fire and sheriff’s departments using drones tripled from 18 to 56 in the state this year.

Nationwide, the number of agencies with drones has more than doubled to 910, according to Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. He said one reason Wisconsin may be seeing growth is that it’s less expensive than using manned aircraft.

“Agencies that may not have the budget for manned aircraft could have the budget for a drone,” said Gettinger.

The price is relatively inexpensive for law enforcement, Gettinger said, with start-up costs hovering around $10,000. Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden said they bought three drones in the last two months to aid with search and rescue, storm damage assessments and tactical operations.

“As far as I’m concerned, the first time we’re able to use that drone to find a lost child or elderly person, it will more than pay for itself,” said Spoden.


Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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