Ex-DNR Employee Says Agency Was Pressured to Approve Big Donor’s Golf Course

November 12, 2018

A former Department of Natural Resources employee says the agency was pressured to approve permits for a high-end golf course along Lake Michigan by the Kohler Co., whose owner is a major contributor to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The company’s plans call for an 18-hole, 247-acre course using four acres of forest and wetland in the Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan County for the golf course project. Part of the plans include filling about 1.5 acres of very rare wetlands and removing up to 120 acres of forest.

Retired wetland ecologist Pat Trochlell says the loss of the trees and other changes would negatively affect the area’s dunes and wetland. She said she assumed the permits would not be granted but was told by managers that they should be approved, and felt that employees who objected could be fired or transferred.

The Natural Resources Board approved swapping 4.6 acres of state parkland for about 10 acres of adjacent Kohler Co. property. The deal also gives Kohler an easement of almost two acres to the main entrance road of the park and other land in order to extend a road to the planned maintenance building.

The project has been stalled by lawsuits filed against the DNR that challenge the permits and the land swap.

Kohler Co. employees contributed $65,565 between January 2010 and December 2017 to legislative and statewide candidates. Most of the employee contributions – $48,000 – were made by company Chairman Herbert V. Kohler Jr.

Herbert Kohler contributed $40,000 to Walker, $5,000 to GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, $2,000 to Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, and $1,000 to former GOP Sen. Joe Leibham, of Sheboygan.

Kohler Co. has built two other high-end 18-hole golf courses in Wisconsin – Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, which was the site of the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015.