Bipartisan Wetlands Bill Becomes 2019 Wisconsin Act 59
On Monday, November 25, Governor Tony Evers signed Senate Bill 169 into law as Wisconsin Act 59. Act 59 was a bipartisan effort from Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D- Kenosha), Rep. Ron Tusler (R- Harrison), Sen. Van Wanggaard (R- Racine) and Sen. Robert Cowles (R- Green Bay) to require wetland mitigation credits to be purchased closer to the site of development.
When a development project requests a discharge permit for a wetland (due to wetland removal) they are required to mitigate (replace) those wetland acres with restored wetland acres elsewhere. Currently, a developer has three options for wetland mitigation, 1) send fees to the in-lieu fee subprogram, 2) complete mitigation within the same watershed or within a half-mile of the project, or 3) purchase wetland mitigation credits. Before this bill was signed, there weren’t geographical requirements for wetland mitigation credits besides that they were purchased in Wisconsin. Act 59 now requires developers to purchase wetland mitigation credits within the project’s closest river basin and within a 20-mile radius of the project. If there aren’t any credits for purchase in the 20-mile radius, the next option is purchasing mitigation credits within a 50-mile radius of the project, and finally within one of the three major watersheds of Wisconsin (Lake Michigan Basin, Lake Superior Basin and Mississippi River Basin).
Act 59 also establishes rules through Wisconsin DNR for wetland mitigation banks to sell credits as they are developing their credits.
To be clear, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin opposes development that requires a wetland discharge permit because wetlands provide carbon sinks and stormwater runoff protection, among other important ecosystem services, that are increasingly necessary in the age of the climate crisis. But 1000 Friends applauds the bipartisan effort to require wetland mitigation credits be purchased in the watershed closest to the project involved.