Dane County would be the only county in the state prohibited from providing input to the state Department of Natural Resources on its water quality standards under a last-minute motion approved Tuesday by the state Legislature’s budget committee.
The Joint Finance Committee voted to ban the DNR from contracting with Dane County or any of its subsidiaries, including the Dane County Lakes and Watershed Commission, to provide input on extending sewage service to proposed developments or other issues related to its water quality management plan.
But the motion does authorize the DNR to contract with a regional planning commission or other unspecified entities to provide advisory services relating to the review of areawide water quality management plan for Dane County.
Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, who does not represent Dane County, introduced the motion. Of the state’s 72 counties, Dane would be the only one affected by the measure.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said he is concerned about the amendment’s potential impact and called its inclusion a “majority party decision.”
“It appears that it creates a cookie cutter approach to looking at water quality issues when we’re looking at extending urban services,” he said.
“One of the problems we have with the amendment is that Dane County has unique development pressures. Not only do we have fairly intense development pressures, we have a system of lakes that can be directly impacted by that.”
The DNR declined to comment, referring requests to Marklein, whose office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.
It was added to the budget on a 12-4 vote, with no Democrats in support. A similar amendment was proposed for the 2013 budget, but was not included in the final budget.
Madison Ald. Larry Palm, who serves as chairman of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC), said it’s his understanding that Marklein cited lengthy delays for decisions on water quality amendments in Mazomanie and Fitchburg.
Last month, the DNR issued a decision approving only 375 acres of Fitchburg’s controversial Northeast Neighborhood Plan.
The plan was adopted as part of the city’s comprehensive plan in April 2010 and sought to add 986 acres to the city’s urban service area, including environmentally sensitive land near Lake Waubesa.
The DNR’s decision was the response to a review that former Mayor Shawn Pfaff’s administration requested in January after CARPC’s November rejection of an amendment to the Dane County Water Quality Plan necessary for development.
Marklein’s amendment would require the DNR to approve or reject the revisions to water quality management plans within 90 days or the revision would default to approval on the 120th day after the department receives the application for the revision.
It also prohibits the DNR from asking for additional information from the applicant more than once during the 90-day review period.
The DNR has typically gone along with advisory decisions of regional planning commissions, unless there is a request for a separate review.
It reversed CARPC decisions twice. In 2011 and 2012, the DNR sided with two municipalities — Mazomanie and Verona — after the commission rejected their plans to expand development zones.
Palm said the amendment forces both CARPC and the DNR to rush complex decisions and could be particularly challenging when CARPC’s staff is tasked with reviewing multiple plans at the same time.
“So not only is it an issue with CARPC making a decision within 90 days, DNR also has to make their decision within 90 days, which means CARPC gets less than 90 days to make any decision,” Palm said.
“I’m not opposed to having timelines placed on it, but 90 days when you consider the amount of work that goes into these reviews — it’s not just reviewing a paper. It’s checking the science.”
Under the provision, the DNR would be required to base decisions on proposed water quality standards on state law, although state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Dane County in some cases has higher water quality standards than the state.
“Dane County won’t play the role that it plays now in deciding when it comes to zoning around shorelines and when it comes to any sort of impact on water quality,” Erpenbach said.
Erpenbach said the motion caught him by surprise and that he and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, were not consulted.
“It’s very frustrating,” Erpenbach said. “Marklein doesn’t have to deal with the fallout ... Those of us living in Dane County do.”
During the meeting, Erpenbach and Taylor asked the committee to delay action until its next meeting Thursday, which would have allowed committee members and the county to review the proposal and environmental impacts.