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Wetland mowing angers Elkhorn residents

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
September 23, 2009
— Some Elkhorn residents are angry at city officials after workers mowed a wetland field next to their properties on the west side of the city.

Area residents are upset because they thought the area was protected by the Department of Natural Resources as a wetland and they wanted to be notified of what they called a drastic change in their neighborhood.


"It's normally wet and filled with water," resident Bonnie Cowans told the Elkhorn City Council Monday night. "It has thousands of birds; it has wildlife that lives in there; it's generally 7 feet or taller.


"The city came through and mowed it down. It chased down deer, foxes; all the birds are gone."


The property is defined by Wisconsin's DNR as a wetland and is located on the west edge of the city between West Sedgemeadow Street and Bluestem Court. And wetlands are protected by DNR officials; it is unlawful to build on or alter the soil without DNR's permission.


Despite upsetting neighbors, a DNR official said there were no laws broken and city officials were within their jurisdictional rights to mow the land.


"The city went out and cut vegetation, and cutting does not require any type of DNR approval," said Pam Schense, a water management specialist in Walworth County.


"It's not a regulated activity. That is actually allowed."


The only issue Schense said needs attention is the city leaving the cut vegetation in the area. She said a DNR warden has notified Elkhorn officials, and they are taking care of cleaning the property.


On Monday evening, a few neighborhood children were building houses for the animals that used to be spotted in the vicinity. One girl said she was working so the animals wouldn't be homeless.


Most of the residents who complained to the city council said wildlife in the area was one of the selling points on their decision to move there.


"We're all very upset that they just came in, mowed it down; nobody knew anything that was happening," Cowens said. "Now we have no birds. All the wildlife that we enjoyed has been chased down."


Resident Jim Taylor said the place now stinks and has mosquitoes, neither of which he had noticed before.


"I guess we don't understand why this action was taken," Taylor said. "We can see no logical reason for that area to be knocked down."


At the city council meeting Monday, Mayor John Giese said his understanding was the move was done to allow natural grasses to come back.


The land is designated as public land and is owned by the city of Elkhorn, according to records at the Walworth County Register of Deeds.


Officials have no legal obligation to notify residents of mowing performed on city-owned property, officials said Monday.


Elkhorn Public Works Director Terry Weter, whose department performed the job, called in sick Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.



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