By Scott Bauer
Madison (AP) – The Wisconsin state Legislature has passed a bill designed to help lure Bass Pro Shop to a site near Lambeau Field.
The bill would allow Neenah-based car dealer John Bergstrom to fill in about an acre-and-a-half of wetland between U.S. Highway 41 and the Green Bay Packers’ stadium without a permit. Bergstrom, a member of the Packers’ executive committee, was asked by the organization to pursue the project.
Democrats who objected to changing the law to help the project along said it amounted to nothing more than a special favor to the developer and an end-run around a legal challenge that conservationists have filed against the development. Republican supporters said the goal was to kick-start the project and create hundreds of jobs.
A spokesman for Bass Pro Shop said the company had not committed to the project and would not build on a wetland. Gov. Scott Walker will be calling company officials soon to encourage them to move forward with the project, said his spokesman Cullen Werwie. Walker was expected to sign the bill soon.
The state Department of Natural Resources approved a permit for the project last year. An agency water specialist based in Green Bay advised against approval, saying the fill would damage the wetland’s value, but the permit was granted after Bergstrom agreed to restore and protect the remaining wetland acreage as well provide educational material on wetlands at the site.
The Wisconsin Wetlands Association challenged the permit before an administrative law judge. The group argued that the DNR didn’t follow its standard permit approval protocol and the project would harm a high-quality wetland. That process is still ongoing.
The bill, which Walker proposed as one of 10 he asked the Legislature to pass quickly in a special session focused on job creation, would exempt the development from a wetland permit.
Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said passing the bill would subvert the process and stifle the rights of citizens like the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.
“We’ve overstepped our bounds here by weighing into this mess and we’ve made it worse,” Danou said.
Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said passing the bill shows the Legislature is serious about job creation.
“At the end of the day this is about jobs that want to come to the area,” he said.