Two bills up for state Senate approval Tuesday would bolster private property rights while loosening protections on thousands of bodies of water in Wisconsin.

The far-reaching bills would order judges to give less weight to state agency expertise in lawsuits challenging pollution controls, make it easier for developers to eliminate wetlands, limit local powers over shoreline construction and end local moratoriums on developments posing possible environmental threats.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Assembly was expected on Thursday to approve a major revision of one of the bills that was before the Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate approved on a voice vote the revised Senate Bill 459, which stripped out a dozen provisions from an Assembly bill that would have made it easier for lakefront owners to dredge several dump truck loads of lakebed each year, eliminate pre-dredging tests for toxins and take title to certain lakebed areas that are now publicly owned.

“A lot of those things weren’t vetted properly,” said Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, who wrote the new version of the bill. “They weren’t ready for prime time.”

But even the softened SB 459 would remove for an indefinite period limitations on dredging, filling and construction in about 7,000 bodies of water that are currently protected because they have special value.

Among the waters that would lose protection are 4,907 with threatened and endangered species and 2,047 that are subject to special management plans.

The proposal would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to restore another type of protection to those places, but the law will go into effect in a few months whether or not the new designations have been approved.

It was unclear how long it would take DNR staff to conduct the studies and gain approvals necessary to redesignate the waters as sensitive, agency spokesman George Althoff said Tuesday.

The other bill, which limits local powers and changes rules for judges, is AB 582.

The bills’ authors say the changes are a long overdue boost to the rights of shoreline property owners and business developers.

Most major environmental groups oppose the bills, saying they will result in increased pollution of lakes and streams and further reduction of the wildlife habitat, flood control and water purification benefits of wetlands.


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