Two bills currently being considered in Gov. Scott Walker’s special jobs session could drastically weaken the public’s ability to protect state’s lakes and streams, a new report released Monday shows.
According to the Wisconsin Legislature website, the two bills aim to repeal statutes that give the Department of Natural Resources power to issue state permits and public hearings for activities taking place near navigable bodies of water.
According to an analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau, under current law a person is required to obtain a permit from the DNR to conduct any activities near a navigable waterway. The applicant or the DNR can choose to request a public hearing if there is a public interest in the application seeking approval.
The LRB’s analysis states that the proposed bills shortens the time period an interested party can request a public hearing from 30 days down to 20.
Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation George Meyer said the shortened period gives the public less time to consider if a certain application could cause harm to a body of water.
Meyer said many people, especially older citizens, do not have access to the internet and must wait for a newspaper to publish the notices. With these smaller time periods, many citizens have even less time to hear about a certain application published by the DNR, he said.
“You’re asking the citizens to make a judgment with incomplete information,” Meyer said. “It makes it very difficult to make a reasonable judgment if something adversely affects their local fishing area or how it’ll affect their property on the lake.”
Robert Kovach, spokesperson for Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, co-author of one of the bills, defended the changes in procedures for the period of time a citizen can request a public hearing for a certain application.
“The status quo is to have your permit for 30 days and then ask you for more information, and then they ask for another 30 days, and that just keeps going on until the applicant stops filing,” Kovach said.
The bill’s goal is to ensure the DNR responds to an applicant’s permit request in a timely fashion, Kovach said.
Lasee’s office would not speak to the Wisconsin Wildlife’s specific allegations that the bills would result in drastic harm for bodies of water made in a statement Monday.
Meyer also said the bill violates the Public Trust Doctrine in the Wisconsin Constitution. According to the Wisconsin DNR, the Public Trust Doctrine promises Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources and are owned by everyone.
Meyer said the Public Trust Doctrine requires public property be used for public purposes, and if citizens do not have time to request a public hearing, they may never get the chance to voice opposition to private developers using the water for another purpose.