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Great Lakes Article:

Citing wetlands, Sierra Club tries to stop highway project
Corps of Engineers asked to reject permit
By Dave Sheeley
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published August 31st, 2004

The Sierra Club is attempting to halt the expansion of Highway 164 in Waukesha County next year by asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit needed for the project.
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"We want to make Highway 164 safer, not wider," said Brett Hulsey, senior Midwest representative of the Sierra Club in Madison.

The state Department of Transportation has asked the corps for a permit to fill about nine acres of wetlands to expand the highway from two lanes to four from Swan Road, in the City of Pewaukee, to just south of Highway VV in Sussex. The project will cost about $12.5 million.

Dale Pfeiffle, an environmental protection specialist with the corps, said his agency will evaluate the Sierra Club's request that the permit, which Hulsey says is to destroy wetlands, be rejected. The club submitted the request last week.

In addition to the club's input, the corps has received about 40 comments from residents, groups such as the Highway J Citizens Group and others. Almost all oppose giving the state the corps' permit, Pfeiffle said.

The Sierra Club also asked the corps to conduct a public hearing on the Department of Transportation's permit request before ruling.

Filling the wetland, a type of land disappearing in southeastern Wisconsin, would cause flooding problems, water pollution and destroy habitat for animals, the Sierra Club says in its 10-page request.

For more than two years, the club has been critical of the Highway 164 expansion, saying it isn't needed and will cause additional traffic and pollution. In 2002, the club called the widening one of the worst transportation projects in the nation.

Transportation department officials, however, have said other alternatives to widening Highway 164 were explored and wouldn't relieve increasing traffic on the road.

The agency plans to replace the wetlands with new ones elsewhere in the state. And, as part of the project, the state agency plans to build storm water detention ponds and habitat for threatened species, such as the Butler's garter snake.

The Transportation Department is asking for Corps of Engineers permission to use nearly 86,000 cubic yards of fill near tributaries to Pewaukee Lake and Sussex Creek. That would allow widening the highway from Swan Road to just south of Highway VV - the second of three phases of the highway's entire widening project scheduled for completion in 2006.

The first phase, with a price tag of about $9.5 million, is under way. The expansion of Highway J from Rockwood Drive, just north of I-94, to Swan Road is scheduled to be competed by November, said Bruce Barnes, a DOT project manager.

The estimated $5.5 million third phase involves reconstruction of the Highway VV and Highway 164 intersection, along with improvements to the highway north to Howard Lane in Lisbon.

Hulsey said the Transportation Department has not considered practical alternatives to the Highway 164 project, such as using the four-lane Highway 74 about a mile east.

But Brian Bliesner, a DOT project supervisor, said developing that alternative route would destroy more wetland than the Highway 164 project.

He said land around the corridor is developing, causing an increase in traffic and a need for a wider, safer road.

"Waukesha County is developing and has been developing for the last 20 years. The traffic is going to be there whether we widen the road or not," Bliesner said.

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