Amsterdam Dunes payback continues

THE LAST MAJOR PIECE of the funding puzzle for Sheboygan County’s purchase of the Amsterdam Dunes nature preserve and wetlands mitigation bank in the town of Holland came from a rather fitting source.

The county purchased the pristine 333-acre site for $4.2 million in 2014. At that time, the county used its reserve funds to cover the purchase price, with the understanding that, through grants and other outside sources, the county would recoup those dollars.

Within a year of the purchase, the county applied for and received a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Stewardship grant of nearly $2.4 million in partnership with Glacial Lakes Conservancy Inc., covering more than half of the original purchase price.

Last month, the County Board approved a conservation easement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which garnered another $1,295,000 for the county toward the original purchase price for Amsterdam Dunes.

The nearly $1.3 million is part of the settlement paid by Tecumseh Products to the federal government a number of years ago over the company’s part in poly-chlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the Sheboygan River and harbor that led to a Superfund designation for the river and harbor in the 1980s.

That contaminated sediment was eventually remediated in a public/private partnership that was spearheaded in large part by county officials, with Tecumseh and other identified PCB source companies participating as well.

That cleanup effort has gone a long way toward restoring the river and harbor, with the city of Sheboygan and the rest of the county already reaping the benefits of a cleaner river and harbor drawing visitors and commerce, boosting the local economy.

Now the county has been able to utilize some of the fine paid by one of the companies deemed responsible for the river and harbor contamination to help preserve more than half a square mile of beautiful undeveloped lakefront property – one of the last remaining undeveloped beach areas between Chicago and Sheboygan.

With other funding sources, the county has recouped all but about $350,000 of the original purchase price, County Administrator Adam Payne told the board last week. The county is still in the process of selling two developable beachfront lots that were part of the original purchase and that sale, when completed, could net the county close to another $1 million, which would cover the remaining balance of the original purchase price and more.

That will still leave the county – and all of us who live here – with some 330 acres of pristine natural beauty along a great lake.

Part of that will be designated as a wetlands mitigation bank. Basically, the county will use 66 to 78 acres to restore wetlands that are utilized for development elsewhere, either in the county or somewhere in the state. The county will be able to utilize those wetland mitigation credits for their purposes or sell them to other municipalities in the state. In the latter case, the county will see even more income from the dunes.

Another benefit of the latest transaction involving Amsterdam Dunes is that it puts in place another conservation easement on the property, this one held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That joins an easement already held by Glacial Lakes Conservancy that was part of their participation in the state stewardship grant.

Basically, those easements mean that there are two agencies that have a vested interest in keeping Amsterdam Dunes undeveloped and in its natural state.

Should the county ever consider developing the property or selling it off for private development – something that should never happen – those two groups would have the right to block any such effort under their easements.

That provides even more assurance that Amsterdam Dunes will remain unspoiled for generations to come – a tremendous legacy, to be sure.

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