Walker Donors Got DNR Well Permits

November 4, 2016


Two permits for controversial high-capacity wells that were issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and challenged last month by an environmental group belong to generous donors to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Clean Wisconsin filed nine lawsuits against the DNR that claimed the agency is violating its duty under the Wisconsin Constitution to manage and protect the state’s rivers, lakes, and streams by failing to consider the cumulative impact that high-capacity wells have on surface and groundwater when it approves high-capacity well permits.

One of the permits was granted to James Wysocki, of Bancroft, for a well located in Pine Grove in Portage County. Wysocki and several members of his family own the Wysocki Family of Companies, which operates large vegetable and dairy farms.

The owners of the Wysocki Family of Companies contributed about $31,000 to Walker between January 2010 and August 2016, including:

$9,527 by James and Sharon Wysocki;

$4,500 from Russell and Diane Wysocki, of Custer;

$4,500 from Gary and Elizabeth Wysocki, of Bancroft;

$4,500 from Kirk and Jacqueline Wille, of Custer;

$4,500 from Jeff Sommers, of Bancroft;

$3,500 from Bill and Marla Wysocki, of Plover.

Four other members of the Wysocki family gave Walker a total of $7,850 between January 2010 and August 2016.

In addition to the campaign contributions, Wysocki Produce Farm, which is one of the family’s large potato farms, spent about $156,100 on lobbying state policymakers from January 2015 through last June on groundwater legislation and zoning issues.

A second permit holder, Michael Lauritzen, a farmer who was awarded a permit for a well located in Dayton in Waupaca County, contributed $2,000 to Walker since 2012.

By definition, high-capacity wells pump 100,000 gallons or more of water per day, and are mostly used by factory farms and food processors. Clean Wisconsin and other critics say the sharp increase in high-capacity wells is depleting groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams and damaging fish and wildlife and their habitat around the state.

Earlier this year, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a legal opinion at the request of GOP legislative leaders that said the DNR does not have the legal authority to consider the cumulative impact the wells have on surface and groundwater in a given area when it considers a permit request. The DNR, which is run by Walker appointee Cathy Stepp, decided to abide by Schimel’s opinion.