The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments from a citizens conversation group opposing Kohler Co.’s plan to build a golf course on Kohler-Andrae State Park on Friday. Friends of the Black River Forest cited environmental, cultural and economic concerns regarding the golf course.
The group sued the Department of Natural Resources, stating that the swap in land went against state rules regarding the selling and disposing of state park land. The group additionally opposed the destruction of a rare ecosystem on the land, which Kohler Co. stated they will restore similar wetlands elsewhere.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals heard the case, reversing the previous ruling from Sheboygan County that the group had no legitimate standing to sue.
“Today the headline should read, ‘Citizens’ rights to defend their state park is on the line in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.’ Citizens and users of the state parks should be able to go to court to protect what they use and enjoy,” said Mary Faydash, President of Friends of Black River Forest. “In fact, our right to bring suit against the Natural Resources Board and the DNR regarding this land swap deal was affirmed by an appellate court, noting that particularly in environmental matters a citizen has standing to bring suit against a state agency.”
In 2018, the Wisconsin DNR handed over five acres of the state park to Kohler in exchange for nine acres from the company. Building the golf course with views of Lake Michigan involves the destruction of four acres of wetlands in the park, as well as half of its trees.
“Environmental economists have been researching the economic value of public lands for quite some time using conventional tools like job creation, gate revenue and economic spin-off effects, and also by measuring the value of usually ignored ecosystem services, like water retention and filtration or carbon sequestration,” said Steven Davis, political science professor at Edgewood College.
The DNR and Kohler Co. continue to argue that the group does not have the legal standing to be making this case, as they have not shown any direct injuries from the land trade.
"The DNR’s decision to authorize the land swap doesn't consider, and it doesn't authorize, any construction," said Eric Shumsky, attorney for Kohler Co. "Construction is far in the future. And it depends on future agency decisions to be made independently under different legal standards."
Sheboygan County is currently home to 16 golf courses, four of which are owned by Kohler. The future golf course is expected to create 227 jobs and a $21 million dollar economic influence in Sheboygan County.