Wisconsin court upholds Kohler golf course challenge

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Conservatives in the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a conservation group could not challenge an agency’s decision to sell state park land for the construction of a top golf course. range along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Opponents said the ruling will make it much harder for the public to challenge decisions by state agencies.

The 4-3 court ruling said the Friends of the Black River Forest cannot challenge the 2014 Department of Natural Resources board decision to turn over 5 acres of the state park to Kohler Co. of Kohler-Andrae and a 2 acre easement for use. at the company’s planned “world-class” golf course in Sheboygan County, north of Milwaukee and about 10 miles from Kohler’s headquarters.

The court ruled that state law did not protect public use of the park.

“Today’s decision sets a troubling new precedent for the people of Wisconsin and their ability to fight against arbitrary and oppressive actions by agencies that affect their daily lives – actions that can extend far beyond the ‘place where they take advantage of Wisconsin’s natural resources,’ said the Friends of the Black River Forest. in a report.

Kohler-Andrae State Park spans approximately 990 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan just north of the town of Sheboygan. In 2014, the board of directors of the Department of Natural Resources, under the control of then-Republican Governor Scott Walker, agreed to exchange the land in question for approximately 10 acres owned by Kohler Co. to the west of the park. Kohler, which is known for making bathroom fixtures, intended to use the land for a parking lot, a maintenance facility and a road for a golf course.

Friends of the Black River Forest challenged the land swap, alleging it would deprive group members and the public of public park land use, reduce habitat for a range of animals and plants and would result in increased noise and traffic around the park.

Sheboygan and Dane county judges dismissed the lawsuit, saying the group lacked standing to sue because the swap itself caused no harm. An appeals court overturned those rulings, finding that the swap triggered a sequence of events that could cause harm.

Thursday’s opinion was written by Judge Rebecca Bradley, who was joined by the court’s three other conservative justices, Annette Ziegler, Patience Roggensack and Brian Hagedorn. The three liberal justices – Jill Karofsky, Rebecca Dallet and Ann Bradley – dissented.