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

The Kohler Company wants to create a world-class golf course adjacent to Wisconsin's Kohler-Andrae State Park. The proposed golf course along Lake Michigan would butt up against the northern edge of the park the Kohler family helped create in the 1960s.

If all goes as planned for Kohler, the 18-hole golf course would occupy 247 wooded acres already owned by the company. However, some neighbors aren't happy about the plan.

Credit Kohler Company

Claudia Bricks, who lives a couple of stones’ throws north of the parcel, says the park land and the area that would be home to the golf course are inseparable.

“Look towards the land for the proposed golf course and you look to the land that’s the state park, there’s no difference. It’s the same thing - a combined ecosystem," she says. “That’s been that way for eons."

Bricks and a handful of other neighbors organized and formed the Friends of the Black River Forest, they say, to make their voices known as decisions are made that will impact their environment.

Bricks says their circle is widening. “I know that we’ve got over 7,000 people who have signed our petitions, maybe closer to 10,000 now."

Fellow organizer Mary Faydash says they’ve spent many hours around her dining room table.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Claudia Bricks believes Kohler Andrae State Park (where she stands) and the wooded wetlands to its north are an important ecosystem that should be maintained.

She says too few people understand how engineering a golf course would impact ancient dune systems, rare wetlands called ridge and swale, and the forest and native grasses that surround them.

“They have said consistently, 'Oh well, we’ve chosen this preferred alternative because it allows us to impact the least amount of wetland,' which is 3.69 acres. However, they neglect to say that a huge impact will be the secondary impact of deforestation. That when you take down 160 acres of trees. which have wetlands among them that they will dry up,” Faydash says.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio
Claudia Bricks and Mary Faydash have spent countless hours around her dining room table trying to build the case that the proposed golf course should not be permitted.

And, she says there’s little talk of the chemicals on which a golf course relies to transform a sandy terrain to a lush green oasis.

Faydash shudders to think of the impact to the groundwater and the great lake. “That’s another issue – that we can’t protect Lake Michigan," she says.

The citizen group contracted Quentin Carpenter to scrutinized the DNR report that will be the subject of a public hearingThursday evening in Sheboygan. The retired UW-Madison senior lecturer is a wetlands expert.

“What stands out in my mind is the disconnect between what the field reports from the consultant’s staff and the DNR staff say versus what the summary comments are," Carpenter says. "The summary comments are vague and what I call ‘weasel words’ – it may eventually do this, it might happen....This is a unique site that would qualify for a very high status as a state natural area, just like Kohler-Andrae park that’s next to it.”

He says the wetlands located on the proposed golf course site "are probably better than the ones that continue right south into the park property.”

The purpose of a DNR environmental impact report is to predict the effects of a project, Carpenter explains, so that policymakers can make informed decisions.

“When the summaries don’t match the data, it’s a problem because what most of the regulators are going to read is just the summary statements.” He adds, “Take a look at it and you can see they don’t say much for such a major project.”

Environmental reporter Susan Bence talks with wetlands expert Quentin Carpenter.

Up until recently, the proposed golf course had been located within the Town of Wilson.

Wilson board chair John Ehmann was motivated to run for office, because of the Kohler development. He felt residents needed to be involved in the discussion.

Credit J Ehmann
Area in Town of Wilson annexed to the City of Sheboygan.

He says the town tried to negotiate with Kohler, but then the company turned to Sheboygan to annex the parcel.

The move, Ehmann says, will result in lost revenue for the Town of Wilson -- and sets an unsettling precedent.“It creates a path deep into the town from which more annexation to take place," he says.

Ehmann adds, "In the interior of town, that’s where we have a lot of undeveloped land that could easily be bought up by the City (of Sheboygan), Kohler or any developer."

People in Wilson now worry more of their town, and way of life, might be swallowed up.

But not all area residents are worried about the proposed golf course.

Sheboygan County resident David Hendrickson says the course is a great idea. "I think that it’s become a great golf destination. I think another golf course along the lake would be great... I’m a golfer, I love it.”

When WUWM reached out to Kohler for this story, a spokesperson said that their team members are busy and not able to meet, but shared shared a written statement 
 from Dirk Willis, Kohler's Group Director of Golf :

Kohler Co. is pleased to reach this major milestone in the ongoing review of our public golf course project, and remains committed to following the appropriate process as we move the project forward.

Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio
Milwaukee Public Radio

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>