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Environmental groups blast legislation for Foxconn facility

Environmentalists are blasting parts of the incentive package proposed to accommodate the Foxconn facility.

The bill would eliminate certain permit requirements and tweak laws to speed up the building process. The proposed legislation could pass before the exact location of the site is made public. Environmentalists say that means legislators would vote on a bill without knowing what land will be impacted.

Those opposed, including the League of Consevation Voters and Midwest Environmental Advocates want the process to slow down and are calling on legislators to consider the long term impact on the environment.

“When we look at wetlands being filled in, that's a huge concern for our state's water resources,” said Matt Danneberg, a field director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Wetlands serve as storage for flood water and purifiers for lakes and groundwater.

The incentives bill for the 1,000-acre Foxconn plant includes changes to laws that would allow the tech company to fill in or build on state wetlands without a permit from the Wisconsin department of Natural Resources.

“Looking at the irony of all the flooding that's taken place in this part of the state, wetlands provide folks coverage for floods,” Dannenberg said.

James Dick, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says Foxconn will need permits to fill in federal wetlands. There will also be a mitigation requirement.

“In order to get the state permit exemption, a company would have to agree to the 2-to-1 acre mitigation fill requirement creating new wetlands of equal value even if the wetlands would fall under federal jurisdiction,” Dick said.

Those opposed say it's not good enough.

“It's not a perfect replacement for the wetlands that are there and provide those essential environmental services,” Dannenberg said.

The bill would also eliminate the requirement for the DNR to prepare an environmental impact statement on the site, which is expected to be in Racine or Kenosha county.

“We need to take the time to look at what wetlands are there and what streams and water bodies will be impacted since we don't know exactly where it will be set up,” Dannenberg said.

Dick says those studies take months to complete.

“This proposed bill will allow the department to apply identified environmental impacts directly to the permit application review process, without taking months, sometimes up to a year, to go through the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] step,” Dick said. “The permit application review includes a public comment period and a review of those comments, so the public will still have input.”

Midwest Environmental Advocates Staff Attorney Sarah Geers says there is no need to rush the bill.

“Projects of this size need more environmental scrutiny not less,” Geers said in a statement. “And giving away the public's fresh water resources is different than offering tax breaks."  

You can read the proposed legislation in its entirety here.

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