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5/21/02- Wisconsin Wetlands Association
URGENT!  NOW is the time to fight the "Ashley Furniture Wetland Fill" Exemption in State Budget Repair Bill
Wetland Colleagues,
The legislative budget conference committee is still locked in a stalemate on details of a final budget "repair" bill, but we expect some movement soon. Now is the moment to ask the committee--and the Governor--to REMOVE AN INAPPROPRIATE NON-BUDGET, PRIVATE POLICY ISSUE from the budget bill--the exemption from state law for Ashley Furniture Industries in Trempealeau that would allow them to fill an important 14-acre floodplain wetland without a permit from the DNR.
Although a specific bill that would have given Ashley the exemption it desired was vehemently criticized and rejected during a public hearing by the Senate Environment Committee this past winter, back-room politicking revived the Ashley exemption that was inserted into the Senate's version of the budget repair bill just moments before the bill was passed six weeks ago--with no public comment whatsoever.  Now it is up to the Conference Committee and the Governor to reject this special favor for a private entity.  But it's an uphill road--we need many people asking for the removal of this exemption!
PLEASE WRITE, CALL OR E-MAIL THE GOVERNOR and the 8 members of the Budget Conference Committee asking them to remove the "Ashley Exemption" from the Budget Repair Bill.  (More background, below.)
or (608) 261-2157
Sen. Robert Jauch (608) 266-3510
Speaker Scott Jensen (608) 266-3387
Rep. John Gard  (608) 266-2343
Sen. Russ Decker (608) 266-2502
Sen. Mary Panzer  (608) 266-7513
Rep. Steve Foti (608) 266-2401
Rep. Spencer Black  (608) 266-7521
Mail can be sent to:
* Gov. Scott McCallum, P.O. Box 7863, Madison  WI  53707
* any Senator: P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI  53707
* any Representative: P.O. Box 8952, Madison  WI  53708
Ashley Furniture Industries has tried for many years to coax the DNR to give it a special permit to fill a 14-acre floodplain wetland in order for the company to expand its operations.  They want to build a parking area and warehouse facility next to their existing plant (claiming it will produce "hundreds" of unsubstantiated new jobs).  The DNR has located alternative building sites for the expansion, but Ashley has stubbornly insisted they need to build in the wetland.  In 1997, Ashley deliberately destroyed and burned all of the wetland vegetation in order to convince key politicians that the site is, in fact, not a wetland!  We have photos of "before" and "after" that show the level of destruction.  Ashley has NOT been a good steward of this wetland!  Should they be allowed to continue the destruction?
 Were DNR to grant the permit, this would represent the LARGEST PRIVATE WETLAND FILL granted by the DNR since 1991. (Most fill project are < 0.2 acres.)
Realizing they were getting nowhere with the DNR, Ashley executives and employees have made many and considerable campaign contributions to key policy makers, including then-Governor Tommy Thompson, Senator Rod Moen, Representative Barb Gronemus (both of whom were authors of special legislation for Ashley), Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, and many others.  A total of $68,000 in "hard" contributions by Ashley personnel to politicians over ten years has been documented by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign; who can say how many countless thousands in "soft" contributions have been made that cannot be tracked?
An attempted exemption from state law for Ashley that was inserted into the 1999 Budget Bill by then-Governor Tommy Thompson was passed into law, challenged, and found to be unconstitutional.  The lawsuit took almost two years (and many thousands of private dollars) to determine that a local and private bill inserted into the Budget is illegal.
Only one week after the Ashley exemption in the budget bill was determined to be unconstitutional last August, Governor McCallum received $10,000 in campaign contributions from key Ashley executives!  Ashley's intention has clearly been, "Pay to Play" in order to get their special wetland fill exemption....AND IT'S WORKING!... unless citizens voice their outrage at this obvious political power play and corporate influence over policy decisions.
Exactly a year ago, the Governor and the Legislature UNANIMOUSLY passed a new law that would protect our isolated wetlands in Wisconsin, and the Governor has been using this success as part of his campaign to get re-elected.  If the Governor and Legislature allow the Ashley exemption to be passed into law through the budget bill, we feel this would be hypocrisy at its finest! 
Furthermore, if Ashley can get an exemption from state  law to fill its wetland, what's to stop hundreds of other corporations that own undevelopable wetlands from asking for a special exemption, too?  It is blatantly unfair to treat any entity differently than everybody else.  Ashley should be told to file a permit application with the DNR like every other citizen must do in Wisconsin.  No exceptions from the law!!
Please share your concern with key decision-makers TODAY, and pass this message on to other citizens who care about protecting our environment and upholding the democratic process.  Just say "NO!" to corporate influence of public policy!
Wisconsin Wetlands Association
222 S. Hamilton, Suite #1
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 250-9971
fax (608) 256-4562
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