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JFC takes up high capacity wells, limiting challenges
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A motion affecting the right to challenge applications for high capacity wells has passed the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, appending it to the 2013-2014 Biennial Budget for vote by the Assembly and Senate.

The motion, which would prohibit someone from challenging high-capacity well permits because they lack consideration of their “cumulative environmental impact” when taken together with other wells in an area, was passed on a party line vote – 12 votes in favor from Republican members of the committee and four votes against from the Democratic members.

The motion reads that “a person may not challenge an application for, or a permit for, a high capacity well based on the lack of consideration of the cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed high capacity well together with existing wells when approving the high capacity well permit. This provision would apply to applications for high capacity well permits and high capacity well permits in effect before, on, or after, the effective date of the bill, and for applications and permits for which final administrative or judicial review has not been completed on the effective date of the bill.”

A number of citizen conservation groups have decried the action, including Save Copper Creek, which formed locally in response to concerns over a proposed high-capacity well near the north branch of Copper Creek in Utica Township, which is still in pending status with the Department of Natural Resources.

“We have a double-pronged concern over this,” said Save Copper Creek spokesperson Bob Van Hoesen. It’s the merits of the proposal and the process. It’s just completely wrong.

“It pulls the rug out from under citizen groups challenging a high capacity well, in asking how it impacts neighboring uses,” Van Hoesen explained. “It’s another non-fiscal change in policy included in the budget. This means there will not be a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee.”

Van Hoesen predicts the rider will receive little, if any, attention during budget discussions by the legislature.

“This is a gift to frac sand mining, open-pit mining, and factory farms, but a slap in the face to those of us who need fresh, plentiful water for our homes, communities, and businesses,” according to Anne Sayers, Program Director with the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

The motion was presented by Representative Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade). He could not be reached for comment.