Kohler’s Golf Course Challenge Postponed

Wisconsin Supreme Court conservatives ruled Thursday that a conservation group cannot challenge an agency’s decision to sell state park land for the construction of an upscale golf course along from 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 Friends of the Black River Forest cannot challenge the decision of the Department of Natural Resources Board of Directors to turn over 5 acres of Kohler State Park to Kohler Co.- 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 location and whether they are taking advantage of Wisconsin’s natural resources,” the Friends of the Black River Forest said. in a report.

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Thursday’s ruling overturned a standard used by Wisconsin courts since 1975 to determine when the public has standing to challenge agency decisions. The majority concluded that the standard had no basis in law.

The court’s liberal justices accused the conservative majority of rewriting state law to limit the ability of Wisconsin courts to rule on decisions that could harm the public.

“The majority opinion inexplicably and of its own accord rewrites the law to restrict the right to judicial review beyond what the statutory text grants,” reads their dissent.

Kohler-Andrae State Park spans approximately 990 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan, just south of the town of Sheboygan. In 2018, the Department of Natural Resources Board of Directors agreed to exchange the land in question for approximately 10 acres owned by Kohler Co. 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.

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Friends of the Black River Forest challenged the land swap, alleging that this would deprive band members and the public of the use of public park land, reduce habitat for a range of animals and plants, and lead to 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 Walsh Bradley – dissented.

Denise W. Whigham