State News: Wetlands, UW Restructure, NFL Protests

Wetland Bill Would Reverse Bipartisan Action

The leader of an environmental group said a proposal that would make it easier to develop on Wisconsin’s isolated wetlands will reverse bipartisan action lawmakers took after a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a 5-4 decision known as Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, justices ruled the Clean Water Act doesn’t extend to isolated wetlands that provide habitat for endangered species or migratory birds. Not long after the 2001 court decision, Wisconsin’s Legislature affirmed the state would continue its protection of isolated wetlands, one of the few state’s in the nation to continue protection.

Isolated wetlands are those that are considered not part of a body of water like a lake or river. Wisconsin has 5.5 million acres of wetlands and about 20 percent are considered isolated wetlands.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is one of several conservation and wildlife groups opposed to the bill making it easier for developers to build on isolated wetlands.

“These are some of the finest wetlands in the state of Wisconsin,” said WWF Executive Director George Meyer. “That’s why the Legislature in 2001 unanimously approved taking over state authority.”

One of the proposed bill’s authors, state Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said the process now simply delays ultimate approval. Steineke said the bill has been introduced in the Assembly and still waiting to be assigned to a committee.


County Officials Blindsided by UW Plan

On Oct. 11, UW System President Ray Cross announced a plan to consolidate the state’s 13 two-year colleges with its 13 four-year universities. But the move seems to have taken county officials by surprise. Since county governments own and maintain the property and buildings on two-year campuses, Richland County Board Chair Jeanette Kirkpatrick said they were taken aback when they heard news of the plan to restructure.

“We had no clue that this was happening. There was nothing in the correspondence,” Kirkpatrick said. “I don’t even think the people at the campus, the dean, even knew.”

Jeff French is Barron County’s administrator. He said he’s been getting calls about what the merging of the UW-Barron County campus in Rice Lake with UW-Eau Claire means for the region. French said he doesn’t expect the county’s annual $100,000 operating budget for the school to change. UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt has proposed increasing course and degree offerings at the Barron County campus, all good news, said French.

Cross has cited changing demographics and declining enrollment at the state’s two-year colleges as justification for merging them with the four-year university system. Since 2010, he said enrollment at two-year colleges has dropped 32 percent.


Walker:  Time for Player Protests to Stop

Gov. Scott Walker told the National Football League Monday that it’s time for NFL players to stop protesting the national anthem, calling their decisions to kneel or sit before games “a divisive political sideshow.”

It marked a change in tone from Walker, who said three weeks ago that while he stood and put his hand over his heart as a sign of respect during the anthem, he wasn’t going to tell other people what they should or should not do.

“Speaking up for what you believe in is a profoundly American idea,” Walker wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “But disrespecting our flag, and the men and women who have fought to protect and defend our country, is not American in the slightest.”

Walker’s letter to Goodell marked his strongest statements yet on the controversy, though he couched it in terms of a compromise, saying the players would be better off using their positions to call attention to domestic abuse.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said it was “out of bounds” for Walker to decide which causes deserve the NFL’s attention and which ones don’t.

“I am disheartened and frustrated that Gov. Walker chose to use Domestic Violence Awareness Month to score his own political points,” Taylor said. “Colin Kaepernick began kneeling because of what he viewed as undue violence against unarmed African-Americans at the hands of some in law enforcement, often leading to deaths. As usual, the people least equipped to speak to this issue, who never have to worry about being racially-profiled, want to tell those impacted how they should respond.”

Walker’s remarks come amid speculation that the Green Bay Packers might try to sign Kaepernick after starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, possibly ending his season.


Lake Superior Levels Near Record High

Water levels on Lake Superior were near record highs for the month of September, which is causing erosion and property damage along areas of the lake.

Lake Superior was four inches higher in September than it was last year and two inches below the record high for the month, said Missy Kropfreiter, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We did see 30 percent more than average rainfall during the month of September,” she said. “The odd part for Lake Superior to have risen 1 inch from August to September is that we typically see that seasonal decline begin during the month of September.”

Kropfreiter said they’ve seen an increase in calls about property or shoreline damage due to high lake levels.

“But, we typically get these calls with November kind of around the corner here,” she said. “It’s those high winds and seiche events that occur. When you have higher water levels and strong winds pushing the waters, you get those larger waves. They tend to impact some of those shoreline structures.”

Lake Superior was 603.02 feet above sea level in September, which is the highest it’s been since 1997. She said the International Lake Superior Board of Control has opened six gates on St. Marys River, which drains Lake Superior at the end of Whitefish Bay, compared to five at this time last year.


Kohl Endorses Tony Evers

Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has endorsed State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers in the Democratic primary for governor.

While it’s debatable how much endorsements swing the outcome of elections, Kohl is one of the most successful Wisconsin Democrats in modern history, having won four statewide races for U.S. Senate, three of them in landslides.

“I’m supporting Tony because he’s a different kind of candidate,” Kohl said in a written statement. “He’s taught in a classroom and led a school. He has changed lives one kid at a time.”

Kohl said the “politicians in charge” in state government had pit people against each other.

“With Tony as governor, this nonsense stops,” Kohl said.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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