The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday that plans for a controversial 247-acre Kohler Co. golf course would comply with the state’s environmental protection law despite making changes that would affect wildlife and be noticed by visitors to an adjacent state park on Lake Michigan.
The DNR issued a final environmental impact statement for the project, which would disturb several acres of wetland, require digging of a high-capacity well, and use five acres of the popular Kohler-Andrae State Park south of Sheboygan.
The 18-hole course would be built mostly on Kohler Co. land, but the developers are seeking an easement to build a maintenance facility and to run traffic through a portion of the Kohler-Andrae State Park.
The DNR has issued a conditional wetland permit and is working on a revision of the park master plan. The developer will need other approvals from federal, state and local governments.
The park’s scenic dunes and lakeshore would be altered, according to the environmental impact statement.
“The natural scenic beauty of the view of the dunes from the lake may be lessened by tree removal and structure construction,” the report says. “It is expected that at least the viewing tower associated with the club house would be visible from the lake and it is likely that the public view from the lake would also include the tees, greens, and other infrastructure.”
Construction noise, dust and traffic congestion would be expected for two years, followed by higher levels of traffic and congestion at the park entrance, in addition to increased competition for overflow parking on nearby roads during peak times for visitors at the park and golf course special events.
The permanent maintenance facility and fence on park land may be visible to park visitors. It would cover about 22,000 square feet and be used to house equipment and for the storage and mixing of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer.
The Friends of the Black River Forest oppose the project, saying the developer’s plans to fill 3.6 acres of wetland and other changes will alter the hydrology of a sensitive ecology.
“This site has been untouched for years and supports globally imperiled wetland complexes and wildlife habitat,” the group’s attorney, Christa Westerberg said. “The DNR acknowledged this but still issued the wetland permit. Why?”
The environmental impact statement predicts that stopover habitat for migrating birds would be significantly reduced by expected removal of about half of the forest now covering the land. Eleven endangered or threatened species live on or around the property.
Natural Resources Board chairman Terry Hilgenberg said Wednesday that he has received dozens of emails about the course, including many from opponents, but he said he had confidence that the golf course would be responsibly designed.
“Kohler does things right,” Hilgenberg said. “That gives me more confidence about it, but unfortunately until you see it you don’t know what it will be.”
Kohler has developed several 18-hole courses in the area that have hosted major championships. The planned development would include a restaurant and 14,500-square-foot clubhouse and be similar to the Straits course at Kohler’s Whistling Straits facility north of Sheboygan.
Kohler Co. chairman Herbert V. Kohler Jr. is a political supporter of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and one of the richest residents of the state.