Former Wisconsin DNR Employee Says Environmental Standards Were Ignored To Allow Kohler Golf Course

Nov 12, 2018

The Kohler company is keen to create a world-class golf course along Lake Michigan. But the project has faced obstacles. Critics fear the 18-hole course bordering Kohler-Andre State Park will impact a unique sand dune-wetland system.

An organization called the Friends of the Black River Forest formed to try to put a stop to the project.

READ: Proposed Golf Course Along Lake Michigan An Economic Success Or Environmental Debacle?

Nevertheless, Kohler received the necessary permits from the Wisconsin DNR and prepared to break ground. But the friends group launched a series of lawsuits that have temporarily stopped construction. 

Now, a new wrinkle has emerged.

According to a story released by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism on Sunday, a former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources employee, Pat Trochlell, says agency staff was pressured to approve the golf course. Trochlell, a wetland ecologist, retired in January 2018 after a 37-year career with the DNR.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek reported and wrote the story.

“She [Pat Trochlell] said that this is one of the most special places she’s ever seen in her life. It’s a rare ecological system only found on the shores of the Great Lakes and it’s globally rare,” Whites-Koditschek says.

Whites-Koditschek wrote, "Trochlell determined the project did not meet state [wetlands] standards. But she said her bosses told her the permit should be approved no matter what.”

Trochlell wasn't the only one concerned. Whites-Koditschek talked with additional former DNR employees, including Jim Buchholz. He was Kohler-Andre Park superintendent for 27 years.

Former Kohler-Andre State Park superintendent Jim Buchholz walks some of the land within the park that will be used for the golf course project.
Credit Susan Bence

READ: Kohler Golf Course One Step Closer To Construction

The proposed golf course would take shape just north of the park. In fact, Kohler was given permission to use five acres of parkland for the project in exchange for a nearby parcel.

Journalist Sarah Whites-Koditschek says Kohler Company's promise to work around the rare dunes and “to plant native species to avoid introducing more invasive” has not appeased concerns.

“Other wetland ecologists and these former DNR staffers are questioning … the potential secondary impacts of the watering and fertilizing … that could destroy the wetlands even if Kohler doesn’t grade them or take them out as they build the golf course,” Whites-Koditschek says.

The DNR declined Whites-Kodittschek’s request for an interview because of pending litigation. Department spokesman Jim Dick said the agency “makes permit application decisions based on law and sound science.”

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