State News: Wetland Filling, Gerrymandering, Milk Production Records

Schimel Appeals Redistricting Case

State Attorney General Brad Schimel has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily block a lower court order that would force Republicans to redraw Wisconsin’s legislative map.

Schimel is appealing a federal court decision from late last year that struck down Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative map as an unconstitutional gerrymander. In a second ruling issued earlier this year, the same court ordered Wisconsin’s map redrawn by November.

In a brief filed May 22, Schimel argued the Supreme Court was likely to reverse the lower court decision and uphold Wisconsin’s legislative map. Given that likelihood, he urged justices to “stay” the lower court’s ruling, which would keep it from taking effect while the appeal unfolds.

“A stay would become necessary to avoid Wisconsin wasting substantial sovereign resources to draw a map that, in all likelihood, will never become law,” Schimel told the court.

While the Supreme Court has yet to announce whether it will hear Wisconsin’s appeal, legal observers and redistricting experts expect justices will want to get involved.

Company Allowed to Fill Wetlands

The state has granted permission for a timber company to fill wetlands as part of a $65 million sand processing plant and rail spur in Monroe County.

Company officials say the project will pair economic development with environmental preservation. However, environmental advocates say the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources may have contradicted state law when it granted the company a wetland permit.

The DNR approved the permit last week for Meteor Timber’s plans to fill about 16 acres of wetlands as part of the project. Meteor Timber is proposing the multi-million dollar project as part of plans to process sand from a nearby mine, which would then be shipped to customers in North Dakota and Texas.

Company spokesman Evan Zeppos said the project protects more than 40 acres of wetland for every acre impacted.

“When you look at a project that is impacting 16 but preserving another 643, many of which are high-quality wetlands, and you add in things like the Rudd Creek restoration, the eco-passages, as well as the $65 million investment and 100 new jobs, I think this project warrants support,” Zeppos said.

In an environmental review, the DNR acknowledged the project could set a precedent by using wetland preservation as a means of mitigation. The agency also points out the project would impact wetlands primarily in a white pine-red maple swamp, which is considered an “imperiled” wetland community in Wisconsin.

Environmentalists question whether the DNR approved the company’s wetland permit in accordance with state law. Stacy Harbaugh, communications director for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said the DNR also points out that the loss of white pine-red maple swamp “is expected to be irreversible and has high significance.”

“In state law, it says the DNR can only approve projects that aren’t irreversible or that don’t have high significance,” Harbaugh said. “So it’s the details of the permit itself that are in direct contradiction to what state and federal law allows.”

Meteor Timber also must obtain other state and federal permits for the project, including from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in compliance with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. A Corps spokesman said they’re waiting on results of a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, primarily surrounding impacts to the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. The rattlesnake is a state endangered and federally threatened species.

The Corps expects to make a final determination on its permit sometime in mid- to late July.

Brown County Passes 6-Year Sales Tax

The Brown County Board voted Wednesday night to pass an extra 0.5 percent sales tax beginning in January. The added tax will last for six years and pay for renovations to libraries, the county jail and road work projects, among other things.

Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said the money will also help pay down $135 million in debt.

“I think this is bold leadership on behalf of the Brown County Board of Supervisors basically saying to the Brown County people we’re going to provide for debt reduction, tax relief and investment in the overall community,” he said.

All of the proposed projects must now be approved individually by the county board.

The county also plans to set $15 million from the tax aside to help build a new Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena. The arena will cost $95 million in full, the bulk of which will likely be paid for through an increased room tax.

Members of the Brown County Taxpayers Association question the cost of some of the projects.

When the tax takes effect in January, Brown County will become the 65th of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to have enacted the tax.

State Marks 3 Years of Milk Production Increases

Wisconsin’s monthly milk production has increased nonstop for the last three years, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

April milk production was about one percent higher than the same month last year. That marks the 36th month of year-over-year increases.

Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the state’s dairy industry has made impressive strides in expanding output since the early 2000s.

“If you look back about a decade, back to 2006, we were producing something like 65 million pounds of milk a day in the state,” Stephenson said. “Today, we’re producing about 85 million pounds, so we’ve had a lot of increased milk production. Now we’re at a point where we’re producing quite a bit of milk and we wonder a little bit if we’ve got the markets still increasing at the same pace,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said the dairy industry won’t be able to sustain this level of growth unless they see an increase in dairy exports.

Kewaunee County farmer John Pagel, president of the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative, said the state may be nearing the end of its production streak.

“I think that there will be a (market) correction of some sort,” Pagel said. “But this is going to be somewhat of the norm because everybody’s getting a little better at their job, and so we’ll see slow to steady increases (in production).”


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