The state Department of Natural Resources is trying to be more business-friendly even as it continues its mission to protect the environment, a DNR official told a business group in Manitowoc this week.
Russ Rasmussen, an administrator in the DNR's water division, said Monday that the agency is shifting its culture from a single-minded commitment to the outdoors to more of a middle-of-the-road attitude, the HTR media reported. He said the agency now tries to find compromises between environmental protection and economic development.
"We are trying to move our culture from, 'No, we have to protect the resource,' to problem-solving," he said Monday to a group called Business Connects with Government.
He said the DNR feels it has a significant role to play in economic development. He noted, for example, that water-quality standards provide clean water for recreation and healthy fish populations, which can help drive local economies.
Rasmussen added that the DNR still takes its role as an environmental steward seriously.
"Without a good, healthy economy we can't protect our water, either," said Rasmussen.
He cited the development of a Cabela's store near Lambeau Field as an example of the outdoor retailer getting to build its new mega-store but with a net increase in acres of protected wetlands.
Rasmussen also discussed the remediation of so-called brownfield sites. Those are abandoned or underused industrial sites where development has been adversely affected by actual or perceived contamination.
Manitowoc has secured $2.6 million in federal Environmental Protection Agency funds to identify and begin early-stage remediation of contaminated sites. The agencies are also working to stimulate potential re-use of contaminated sites exempting new owners from liability associated with previous landholders.
Owners who didn't cause the contamination should "not have to worry about the risk from what happened before," he said.
Paul Braun, a deputy city planner, said officials were planning to establish a $1 million revolving loan fund for future property clean-up. He urged potential developers to consider seeking a loan to finance remediation of brownfield sites.