Amsterdam Dunes benefits growing

THERE WERE MANY POTENTIAL future positives when Sheboygan County purchased the 333-acre Amsterdam Dunes property in 2014.

The $4.2 million purchase from American Heritage Corp. included perhaps the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline left along Lake Michigan between Chicago and Sheboygan.

The county’s purchase preserved that pristine shoreline from any future development pressure – indeed, American Heritage had planned a primarily lakefront development on the tract. Even though their plans never came to fruition, it is highly likely that at some time in the future such development would have occurred if the land had remained in private hands.

The county will also ensure that the rare and unique Lake Michigan dune ecosystem that exists on the property will be preserved for the future. The Dunes also feature the preserved shoreline remnant of 6,000-year-old Lake Nipissing, which will also be preserved. The only other such glacial remnant in the state is in Kohler-Andrae State Park; the rest have been mined for sand or lost to development.

Amsterdam Dunes also contains rare sand dune habitat, inter-dunal wetlands, native maple-beech forest, migratory bird and shoreline habitat and more, all of which will be saved now and into the future.

The county used funds from its reserves to buy the land three years ago, with the intention that the money would be reimbursed through grants and other outside sources. That goal has nearly been reached and, when the county sells two small developable properties on the shore that were part of the original purchase, it will have more than recouped its initial investment – meaning this pristine natural area is being saved without the use of a single county taxpayer dollar.

Beyond all that, however, Amsterdam Dunes presents the county with an opportunity to restore wetlands in a way that will benefit the county financially, both directly and through potential economic development.

Nearly one-quarter of the property has the potential for wetland restoration, which the county intends to pursue.

In addition to the benefit of creating more wetland areas – something that recent hurricanes have proven once again is vital to the natural balance – the county can use that wetland restoration to create a wetland mitigation bank.

Current rules require that any development – be it for roads, industry, commerce or residential development – that includes draining an existing wetland must be offset by recreation of wetland elsewhere, at least on an acre-per-acre basis or up to 1.5 acres of new wetland for each acre filled in.

The county will use the restorable wetland acres at Amsterdam Dunes as a wetland restoration resource, to be used to offset development locally or to be sold to other counties as a credit if needed there.

The county has already received a total of $400,000 in grants for wetland restoration thus far. Again, that’s money that can be used for that purpose that will not come directly from county taxpayers. And that amount is certain to grow if the county realizes enough from land sales to exceed the original purchase price as well as any future grants.

The bottom line is that the county was able to acquire a 333-acre parcel that’s a natural jewel which will be preserved while adding economic benefit for the county and beyond without a single tax levy dollar. That’s something we can all benefit from and appreciate.

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