Thursday, February 24, 2005

Menards vs. Wisconsin DNR

Owen over at Boots and Sabers recently criticized the Wisconsin DNR for forcing Eau Claire-based Menards, Inc. to move jobs out of the state. Not only has Menards announced that it would seek to build in Belgrade, MN, but it also announced plans to expand a plant in Plano, IL, rather than in Eau Claire.

Menards' side of the story is that the DNR made several requests regarding a building project, and that every time Menards agreed to one of the requests, the DNR added more stipulations. So the company announced that it would simply stop trying to adhere to DNR rules and move its business out of the state.

The DNR, on the other hand, seems taken aback by this sudden obstinance by Menards, saying that working with Menards had been going smoothly. They insist that they did not kill the building plan, but suggested a relocation to a different part of the parcel of land that would not affect the wetlands area. The DNR says that Menards didn't even bother to research that possibility.

Lots of stuff in the local paper regarding this conflict. Aside from the article linked above, here is a two-part series on the dispute, and an editorial calling for some sort of compromise with the goal of keeping jobs here.

I'll let you read those articles on your own. I wish I could find the Menards Press Release that's mentioned in these articles.

DNR officials insisted they were working with Menards on the project and were stunned when the company issued the press release. It’s common for companies to rework plans after getting guidance from the DNR, said Scott Humrickhouse, director of the DNR’s west-central region.

The DNR ultimately ends up approving 80 percent of applications for wetlands fills, he said.

“We thought we were working with them toward a mutually agreeable solution,” Humrickhouse said. “It’s pretty typical on a project this big that you’re going to have some give and take.”

The DNR said the Truax Prairie watershed drains into a series of connected wetlands, including two under the footprint of the proposed building.

A couple things that may be a factor in this dispute -- which I believe is nothing more than a power play by Menards. They probably figure if they make noise and threaten to move business elsewhere, the county will urge the DNR to let them destroy this wetland.

I'll tell you about this area. In the spring these fields flood, and are a magnet for a wide variety of migrant ducks, geese, swans and shorebirds. When birding, this is one of my most frequently-visited places in the spring and summer. I have witnessed over 1,000 Tundra Swans here at one time. I've spotted all kinds of shorebirds. While birding here, I have also run into people from all across the state -- and even from other states -- parked along the county road, checking out the fields with their spotting scopes. It's a well-known hot spot. Because of this, it also brings money into the area. Birders travel. And they travel long distances by car. And they spend money in the areas they visit. The Chippewa Valley should be promoting its birding hot-spots -- and this is one of the area's hottest. (Yes, there is a little bit of the "environmentalist wacko" in this conservative. But environmentalism and conservatism are not mutually exclusive concepts -- particularly in Wisconsin.)

But is there any reason to believe that Menards would actually comply with DNR regulations? Consider that Menards has had run-ins with the DNR in the past. And is in the middle of a dispute right now over improper disposal of hazardous waste.

Menards has been prosecuted by the DNR for violating environmental laws, including a case hotly contested by Menards scheduled for trial this spring. Last fall the company was charged in Eau Claire County Court after authorities said Menards employees flushed hazardous materials down a drain in a maintenance shop at its Eau Claire distribution center.

The distribution center in question is right there next to the wetlands.

Because of their regulatory powers, the DNR is an easy target in this state. However, in this case I'm certain the DNR wants to work with Menards. I'm not certain at all that Menards ever intended to work with the DNR.

As I said over at Boots and Sabers, the county should call Menards' bluff, let 'em go ahead and leave, and then work to bring in a Home Depot. I understand they've been wanting to build a store here for many years.

UPDATE: Dave at Less Lethal takes Menards' side, understandably wishing to support private businesses in their conflicts with state regulatory agencies. As I said above, the DNR is an easy target in Wisconsin, because they tend to get in the way of development. If you have a home on a lake in Wisconsin (as most Illinois and Minnesota residents do), you'll probably run afoul of DNR regulations. And heaven help you if you have a wetland on your property.

The thing is, when it comes to trying to choose whether to trust an obstructionist regulatory agency like the DNR or a corporation like Menards, I will choose the DNR. This should give you some idea of where I rank Menards on the grand scale of things.


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Nice comment on the fact that "conservative environmentalist" isn't an oxymoron! I like to think that I'm one of the original (before the whackos came about) environmentalists - that's why I'm a Forester: grow'em up, cut'em down, & start all over again!

Being a good environmentalist means being able to take care of, protect and use our natural resources.

Whako environmentalists are, well whacko!

I've never seen that area you're talking about, but is sounds like there is another potential building site that wouldn't affect the wetland. Hope it works out.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Sanna said...

Great commentary, (as usual) Drew. I am familiar with the area, but didn't realize what a bird haven it actually is. I will definitely go see for myself this spring.

You raise a good point about promoting the area...I did a few google searches and looked at some Wisconsin birding sites, and did not find one mention of this area for bird watching. Are we missing an opportunity here???

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Drew said...

The site is listed in Darryl Tessen's book on Wisconsin birding hot-spots. And during spring waterfowl migration, it definitely is.

According to the DNR, there are other areas adjacent to the property where Menards could build which wouldn't affect the wetland area, but Menards isn't interested.

At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to imply that the locals should let Menards create the jobs elsewhere and instead appeal to birders for revenue.

I'm sorry, but birders visiting the area will never come close to the revenue that 200 full time jobs produces.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Menards is simply not being honest about its plans in Minnesota and Illinois. Menards claims that they have to move jobs to these locations because of DNR intransigence, but in fact they had plans to expand in these locations long before this DNR issue came up.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger tcrealtyman said...

Menards is definitely expanding into more populated markets all over the midwest. The more market share they can capture in the 10 states they are in, will increase their overall earnings and allow them to re-locate further out and so supply sources and channels will need to get there as well. In this way they can expand into more states and grow profits by economies of scale.
I do like their pre-packaged home kits and with the rising cost of materials, they still are a resource that should continue to improve. They need to take advantage of the internet, also.


Post a Comment

<< Home