Board president Don Greenwood announced his plans to leave the board at the Thursday evening, Feb. 11 meeting of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board meeting in Muscoda.
“I have tendered my resignation to Governor Walker effective May 1 and it has been accepted,” Greenwood informed his fellow board members. “It has been a pleasure to work with all of you. I have some new demands in my life and I decided I needed to let something go.”
The announcement appeared to visibly surprise some board members. LWSRB Executive Director Mark Cupp informally thanked Greenwood, noting that the board would offer official thanks and recognition at the April meeting.
Greenwood’s plan to leave the board was shared near the end of a meeting largely consumed by discussion of the appropriate manner for board members to respond when faced with legislation they find potentially harmful to the Riverway.
Cupp informed the board that he had several conversations with the Department of Natural Resources about how they respond to legislation. The DNR now only answers questions on legislation informationally and only when invited to do so by a legislative committee. The agency no longer makes recommendations in favor of or in opposition to proposed bills. Prior to the current administration, it had been the practice of the DNR to offer recommendations on legislation.
“The Walker administration defined that agencies job is not to take an advocacy role in legislative,” Cupp explained.
He added that this role has been promulgated for all agencies. In light of this, he suggested that bringing information to share and then acting outside the board meetings as individuals was appropriate, but to take stances in favor or in opposition to legislation as a board was politically risky.
“In this political climate, I think it is important for the board to stay laser focused on our mission,” Cupp said. “Stepping outside of that role could create serious problems later.”
Board member Ron Leys responded by saying that he found is disturbing that agencies, staffed by what he characterized as “our best and brightest,” were muzzled by the current administration.
“As to the mounds (legislation), are the mounds historical artifacts that come under our purview?” Leys asked.
Cupp responded that Riverway guidance only applied only insofar as the issue was brush and woody vegetation removal from a mound and it’s immediate vicinity. Any other activity is currently under the scope of the State Historical Society.
“My concern with the aquaculture bill is that they could do these along the river,” said board member Gerald Dorscheid.
Cupp agreed that this could be the case since the bill, if passed, would add aquaculture as an accepted agricultural use in the Riverway law.
Leys noted that in other states, there are examples of fish farming occurring in public waters.
“So we do have a dog in that fight,” Leys quipped.
“My concern is the rapidity with which legislation is being moved,” added board member Don Martin. “These bills will affect all the waters of the state of Wisconsin.”
Martin added that he had contacted his legislator asking that bills be slowed down and taken through the normal process, but this had not happened.
“Every week, there is a story in the newspaper about legislation being passed, sometimes several times a week, that just isn’t environmentally friendly,” added board member Robert Cary.
“I think this reflects a change in philosophy that there is no public good and that our natural resources should be turned over to the private sector,” said Greenwood. “But I think we should act as individuals and do what we can in accord with the Riverway law.”
Greenwood suggested that if a board member truly felt the board should act on a piece of legislation they felt “was germane to the mission of the Riverway,” they prepare a report for board deliberation.
Cupp added that if the board were to ignore the directive to all state agencies, that the organization would draw attention that “could under this administration spell an end to the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.”
In other business, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway:
• approved with conditions the permit request by Mississippi Valley Conservancy for a selective harvest involving two parcels of land totally one acre;
• heard an update on properties being managed by the DNR under the supervision of Nathan Fayram and renewed permits for those properties for invasive and woody brush control;
• heard an update from Cupp on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation planning efforts for widening Highway 60 from Gotham to Muscoda;
• heard updates on permit extensions issued by Cupp in the towns of Pulaski and Clyde;
• heard that hearings for members Ritchie Brown and George Arimond were still pending with the Senate Natural Resources Committee;
• heard that Arimond and Martin’s terms end in May and paperwork to continue serving was needed;
• heard from Leys that swans had been spotted along Hwy 60;
• heard from Brown about attendance at the burial mounds rally the previous month; and
• heard from Tim Zumm of Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway.
* Note: Since the meeting, Cupp has further clarified the issue of offering opinions on legislation. According to Cupp, there is no prohibition on agency staff testifying for/against legislation but the preference is for agencies to work with the authors of legislation to iron out any concerns prior to the bill coming up for a hearing.