Updated: Sep 19
Our community-wide effort to forever preserve 131 acres and three-quarters of a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline got off to a great start. Thanks to your support we have raised millions of dollars toward the completion of creating this once-in-a-lifetime Lake Michigan nature preserve. Unfortunately, the efforts of a private interest working with an anonymous state lawmaker threaten to kill approval of the final grant needed to complete the project. In June of 2021, after a statewide competitive grant process, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources awarded our community a $2.3 million grant for the purchase of Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs. Such grants must undergo a routine “passive review” by the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. On the last day lawmakers could raise questions, an anonymous legislator objected to the release of our grant. We learned the anonymous legislator took exception to our negotiated $5 million purchase price and did not agree with OWLT's or Wisconsin DNR’s independent real estate appraisals which placed the fair market value of the real estate at $7.8 and $5.9 million, respectively. With the lawmaker holding all leverage, we offered to reduce the grant request amount to $2 million and went on to fundraise an extra $300,000 from private sources. The anonymous legislator wanted a deeper cut telling us $1.6 million was the most our community would be awarded. After consulting with our partners at Ozaukee County, and trying to determine how to close the massive $700,000 shortfall, we again chose the pragmatic path and agreed to accept the $1.6 million grant funds. However, at some point during this unnecessarily prolonged and unclear review process by the committee, a private interest armed with a lobbyist emerged and encouraged lawmakers to kill our much-needed grant so that the private interest might buy the property instead. Who is this private entity? What are their plans for the land? We do not know. However, this community knows exactly what it is getting from our efforts to conserve Cedar Gorge Clay Bluffs — unspoiled Lake Michigan views, 100% free and open public access for outdoor recreation, and permanently conserved habitat. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is asking community members to call on lawmakers to work in a bipartisan fashion to get the Joint Committee on Finance back on track and approve the grant for the benefit of all, not just a select few. Your support has put us so incredibly close to realizing this nature preserve for current and future generations. We are counting on YOU! Thank you!
Tom Stolp, Executive Director