Dune bank

County on verge of purchasing 333-acre Amsterdam Dunes property to create wetland bank, preserve pristine beach
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff


Checking out a map of the Amsterdam Dunes property the county is looking to purchase are (left to right) Planning Director Aaron Brault, County Administrator Adam Payne and County Board Chairman Roger TeStroete. The 333- acre undeveloped parcel includes (map above) rare sand dunes, forest and wetlands of various types, bluffs, farmland, streams, diverse plants and wildlife, and 1,920 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner Checking out a map of the Amsterdam Dunes property the county is looking to purchase are (left to right) Planning Director Aaron Brault, County Administrator Adam Payne and County Board Chairman Roger TeStroete. The 333- acre undeveloped parcel includes (map above) rare sand dunes, forest and wetlands of various types, bluffs, farmland, streams, diverse plants and wildlife, and 1,920 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner The price is right and the time is right.

More than half a decade after it was first considered, Sheboygan County stands ready to purchase the 333-acre Amsterdam Dunes property in the town of Holland from American Heritage Corp. for $4.2 million to establish a wetland mitigation bank and preservation area.

The purchase was approved by the Planning, Resources, Agriculture and Extension Committee of the County Board Tuesday. It will go the full board for the first time next Tuesday for referral to another committee and likely come back for final action at the July 15 County Board meeting.

“This is going to be such a big win for Sheboygan County in my opinion,” PRAE Committee Chair Keith Abler said of the proposal.

County Administrator Adam Payne and County Board Chairman Roger TeStroete both emphasized the economic potential for the county of restoring up to 78 acres of wetland on the property.

The county will be able to bank any wetland acres recreated on the land after it is purchased. Those acres can then be used as an offset to any acres of wetland that have to be filled or destroyed for private or public projects elsewhere in the county. In addition, the county may sell any of the acreage credit to other counties across the state to offset lost wetland there, Payne explained.

At present, there is no wetland mitigation bank land anywhere in the Lake Michigan basin in eastern Wisconsin, county Planning Director Aaron Brault told the committee.

“I think the important part of this is the mitigation bank,” committee member Fran Damp said of the proposal. “I think that’s a huge part of this venture.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” added committee member Jim Baumgart. “I think there should be stewardship and other funds coming in and I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t.”

“Whether it is a public transportation project, a private company looking to locate here, or a major employer wishing to expand, establishing a wetland mitigation bank and preservation area will position the community to be more cost-effective and expedite a local project’s completion,” TeStroete said in a press release announcing the purchase. “We want to be better prepared and poised to maintain and support job creation, as well as enhance our environment.”

Brault noted that the county has been forced to purchase wetland mitigation credits from other counties as far away as Douglas County in northwest Wisconsin for several recent road projects, including the County LS project this summer.

He noted that the current market rate for such credits is running $50,000 an acre or more for public or private projects.

“Obviously, as a county, we don’t want to spend any more money in Douglas and Ashland counties,” Payne stated.

The proposal identifies anywhere from 66 to 78 acres of potential restorable wetlands on the site.

Payne told the committee negotiations to purchase the property began late last year with an offer to sell from American Heritage.

The company had planned to develop the property, but ran into financial difficulties and has not been able to move forward with its plans.

The county had made an offer to purchase the land in 2009 for $9 million, and had included the purchase in its long-range spending plan, with an eye to a mix of development and preservation on the land, but that deal never came to fruition.

“For the last five or six months we’ve really been working hard on this,” Payne said. “There’s been lots of meetings and lots of communication. We’re feeling good about where we’re at.”

He pointed out that American Heritage placed a large part of the property in the Wisconsin Managed Forest Law property tax program in 2005 and in 2013, the total property taxes on the entire parcel was only $2,290.

While the resolution calls for the county to fund the purchase out of its reserve funds, it also directs Payne to seek private or grant funds to offset any or all of the cost.

Payne told the committee he is confident that third-party funds will be forthcoming to support the purchase.

He said the effort has received support and encouragement from state and federal agencies, conservation groups and major employers in the county.

“The collaboration and level of interest from the DNR and other conservation agencies has been fantastic,” Payne stated. “Major employers in the community have an interest in staying here and ultimately expanding here, and this will help that. They’ve been very supportive and very interested, and we appreciate their guidance and encouragement.”

Beyond creation of the wetland mitigation bank, Payne acknowledged that the county does not have any other long-range plans for the land, other than to preserve it as a nature area. “We do have experience with wetland mitigation,” Payne said, noting that the county went through that process when it extended the runway at the Sheboygan County Memorial Airport a number of years ago.

Brault said that as soon as the county has its wetland restoration plan for the property approved by the DNR, 10 to 15 percent of the total number of credits will be made available to the county right away. That could come in two to three years, he said.

The remainder will become available as the restoration is undertaken and completed, Brault added.

TeStroete said county officials have been working with local officials in the town of Holland, where the land is located, throughout the negotiations.

“One of our first steps was to check with them and they are very supportive,” TeStroete said of the Holland Town Board.


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