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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Car Dealer’s Wetland Scam

Facts are finally emerging to explain why Governor Scott Walker singled out wetlands as the first natural resource he wanted out of way in his quest to crack open Wisconsin for business. But like so many resource issues this one has juicy twists and a big fat irony to it. It may also indicate just how clever the Walker crew is in picking which conservation issues to move its agenda.

The “business” in question is a prominent Wisconsin car dealer, John Bergstrom, many of whose car lots help uglify Wisconsin’s most sprawl-plagued road, U.S. Highway 41. But Bergstrom doesn’t want a car lot at Hwy. 41 and Lombardi Avenue, in Green Bay. He wants to develop the land for national outdoor retail giant Bass Pro.

So here’s the irony: the very activities Bass Pro customers do depend on wetlands; without them there wouldn’t be fish to catch and wildlife to shoot or look at.

“Yeah, but who wants to look at wildlife at highway interchange?” you may reasonably ask.

Well, you see, it’s bigger than that one wetland. Walker’s people have crafted language in a bill that would affect all wetlands in Brown County like the now-infamous “Bergstrom wetland.” Worse than that, Walker is starting us on a dangerous new course of who gets what in this state. You don’t like what the DNR decided? Complain to the governor and he will introduce legislation narrowly drafted to help your issue, under the guise of more jobs, and get a compliant legislature to sign off -- previous law and rule and precedent and established practice be damned.

Rat can’t wait until the tables turn on Walker as he starts to dismantle the established permitting process. Somewhere, someday, Rat swears, there will be a politically connected guy that wants to put up an ATV race track and will get on a well-worn path to the governor’s office to make sure DNR processes are overruled and he gets his permit.

But wait! The guy has neighbors – and the neighbors are ALSO politically well connected, and they TOO go to the governor for redress of their grievance. They don’t want a noisy dusty racetrack fouling their 4th of July picnics. Who will win that one? I guess they’ll hammer it out in the governor’s office, away from public scrutiny and participation, and miles away from the process that balances private land use with the public interest.

Oh, and the juicy twists I promised: a Green Bay icon, the Packers, are not directly implicated in the Bergstrom wetland story but they are certainly downstream, you might say. The grand scheme is to capitalize on all that Packer traffic in town with a commercial and retail complex that could someday stretch from the stadium to Hwy. 41, with apparently Bass Pro as an anchor on one end. The Packers have not been invoked by those who want to fill the wetland in question, but Walker and supporters of this development picked a good issue to launch its “open for business/outta the way, environment” imperative. The public doesn’t cozy up to wetlands like they do lakes or state parks; that wetland, while ecologically important, would be hard to rally for public defense because it’s so close to a highway interchange; and the grand plans of two Wisconsin business icons – Bergstrom, and distantly, the Packers enterprise – appear to be bogged down by it.

There’s good reporting on this story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


  1. Not "bogged down" - how about "asphalted"?

  2. Just makes you want to SAAB!

  3. See the MJS article, it has good objective reporting.
    1. This project could go down the street a little without environmental issues. There is plenty of space south of Lambeau Field/Resch Center begging for urban renewal.

    2. View this as an Marketing Opportunity for Wisconsin: How about a partnership of the creation of a working/actual example of a properly administered urban wetlands right next to a major outdoors retail destination-a Bass Pro Shop? Market and Display both wetlands preservation AND outdoor activities. Most outdoors people into fishing and hunting also cherish and value the environment.