Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Heartland Development Group

— Midwest Environmental Advocates represented Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers (now Milwaukee Riverkeeper) in a suit against a development company that failed to get the required permits to clear-cut shoreline vegetation along the Milwaukee River.

Case Summary

Vegetation along a river’s edge provides essential protection for the waterway. Trees, shrubs and undergrowth stabilize the shoreline and prevent soil erosion from entering the river and causing serious problems, such as increasing the river’s temperature, decreasing the amount of oxygen in the water, reducing the depth of the river due to sediment, and causing a murky, dirty appearance. Besides all the benefits shoreline vegetation provides for water, it also provides habitat for birds and animals.

Unfortunately, not everyone understands the importance of shoreline vegetation. In 2007, Heartland Development Group, a Milwaukee-based real estate development company, hired ACT Planning and Development to prepare their property adjacent to the Milwaukee River for construction. They clear-cut several acres of shoreline vegetation along the river, at a site in the Glendale Business Park, close to Estabrook Park Falls, in Glendale, Wisconsin. Not only does this increase problems in the already stressed Milwaukee River, but this action ravaged a site that had often been used by area anglers and paddlers for access to the river.

The devastating clear-cut is a violation of the Clean Water Act because the companies acted without the proper clean water permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). For construction projects affecting more than one acre, the DNR requires a construction site storm water permit that requires the developer to establish the means to manage, as well as limit, storm water runoff from the site. This permit also includes specific language that requires the developer to have and comply with an Erosion Control Plan.

On November 8, 2007, Midwest Environmental Advocates sent a Notice of Intent to sue under the Clean Water Act to Heartland Development Group and ACT Planning and Development, on behalf of Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers. We attempted to settle the matter without litigation, engaging Heartland and their attorneys in discussions. Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers sought restoration of the disturbed area and Heartland agreed to hire a consultant to develop a restoration plan that would utilize native vegetation to stabilize the floodplain area.  However, once the DNR deemed the site sufficiently re-vegetated, Heartland left the table, refusing to continue with the restoration plan that Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers had encouraged.

The conclusion of this matter shows Heartland Development Group’s disregard for native plant restoration and public access to this site.  Although we did not obtain the restoration sought for this site, we will continue to work with Milwaukee Riverkeeper and others to improve and protect Milwaukee’s rivers.