Rebecca Dallet’s statewide victory in the 2018 Wisconsin Supreme Court race was seen as a triumph for liberals. Dallet beat Michael Screnock to win a seat on the State’s highest court, but she ran against Donald Trump. Her campaign featured Trump in TV commercials that asserted “our values are under attack.”
But campaigns are one thing and the business of being a Supreme Court Justice in Wisconsin is apparently another.
On February 14, the Sheboygan Press reported that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin had given Kohler Company a Valentine’s present. The largest employer in Sheboygan County had received a favorable decision from the court that moves it one step closer to building a championship golf course north of Kohler-Andrae State Park – using the State Park’s land to build an entrance and a maintenance facility for the golf course and destroying a magnificent beech forest and a rare dunal ecosystem in the process.
Justice Dallet not only voted with the majority, she wrote the decision that gave the city of Sheboygan the right to annex 247 acres from the Town of Wilson, land that belongs to Kohler and on which the company wants to build the proposed, Pete-Dye designed, environmentally devastating golf course.
Attorneys for the Town of Wilson said Kohler had used what are known as “balloon-string” tactics to justify the annexation, buying a thin strip of property that connected the rest of its land to the city of Sheboygan, which is likely to approve the permit for the golf course. According to the Sheboygan Press, 3 out of 5 Town of Wilson board members oppose the golf course, as do most of its residents.
John Ehmann, the Town of Wilson board chairman, said he hoped the “city of Sheboygan will develop the land responsibly . . . by taking seriously the environmental and other impacts” to the property itself, which includes the ridge and swale wetland Kohler wants to replace with greens and golf carts, as well as “surrounding town residents” who are likely to be impacted by the Kohler development as it disturbs, not only a fragile Lake Michigan ecosystem, but also a rapidly eroding shoreline.
Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen declared that the decision was “great news for the city” and that it didn’t “seem there’s any door open to reverse this.” Environmental impacts are not on Vandersteen’s radar.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision written by Dallet was based on the “rule of reason” – basically that, if it promotes the interest of the municipality seeking the annexation, it gets done. Ironically, the only justices who made any objection were staunch conservatives Rebecca Bradley and Brian Hagedorn, both of whom voted with the majority but felt compelled to raise some issues. Bradley pointed out that this “rule of reason” idea is not statutory, and Hagedorn noted that the “rule of reason” is a tricky one. What seems reasonable today may not be so reasonable tomorrow.
Exactly. The question is, once the beech forest and the rare plants are gone, replaced by rolls of sod, diesel-spewing mowers, Round-up to keep the greens green, and a big old club house and parking lot, with a few reeds popping out of a dune here and there for atmosphere and design detail, will the golf course plan still seem “reasonable”?
Is it reasonable to chop down a beech forest to build yet another golf course when the company already has three in the area? The 2020 Ryder Cup is slated for Kohler’s Whistling Straits course, which already has the bragging rights to being a challenging, superbly landscaped course on land that wasn’t a rare ecosystem, though Kohler’s many permit violations at Whistling Straits, and its arrogance toward the course’s neighbors, should be taken into account when the company’s future plans are considered.
Is it reasonable to tout the jobs another golf course will bring to the area when employers in Sheboygan already have more openings they can fill – openings for skilled jobs like welders and machinists, not for college kids on summer break making eight bucks an hour joyriding on lawn mowers?
And is it reasonable to build another attraction in Sheboygan that will draw thousands of cars on weekends – through what was once a pristine State Park, mind you – when Sheboygan County already has some of the worst ozone levels in the State?
I think somebody needs to sit down with Rebecca Dallet and ask her what the word “reasonable” means.
The recently released Wisconsin Statewide Forest Action Plan for 2020 contains some important reminders for our Supreme Court justices as well as our business community. We must take into account the role that forests and wetlands play in climate regulation and in our spiritual, economic, and physical health. The FAP says that forests “provide a unique opportunity to address climate change . . . Forests have the ability to work as carbon sinks, meaning they can offset about 11 percent, annually, of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.”
Donald Trump, meantime, seems to feel that forests and other wild lands are just so much empty space that needs to be developed in order to give it value. It is disappointing to discover that Rebecca Dallet’s values are not so different from Trump’s after all. She is a legal advocate for the same policies, using the power of the State Supreme Court to further the destruction of vital natural resources.
Our courts, our business community, and our citizens need to unite under a different system of values, ones that recognizes the important function of our wild spaces, and acknowledges that unlimited, unregulated development cannot continue.