Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Announces Judgments Requiring Washington County Farmer to Restore a Wetland and Pay $60,000 in Forfeitures, Fees, and Costs

Dec 15 2014
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Announces Judgments Requiring Washington County Farmer to Restore a Wetland and Pay $60,000 in Forfeitures, Fees, and Costs

 

MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has announced that his office has obtained three judgments against Christopher Elbe and his company, Golden E Real Estate LLC, requiring them to restore a wetland and pay $60,000 total in forfeitures, damages, court costs, surcharges, and attorneys’ fees for violations of Wisconsin laws regarding wetlands and navigable waters in Sheboygan and Washington counties, and for violations of a Department of Natural Resources-owned conservation easement in Sheboygan County.

 

According to the complaints, Elbe illegally dredged and straightened Erler Creek in April 2011.  Erler Creek is a navigable tributary to the North Branch of the Milwaukee River.  Then, in October 2012, Elbe dredged an unnamed navigable tributary to the North Branch of the Milwaukee River without a permit and illegally discharged the dredge materials into a wetland adjacent to the unnamed tributary. 

 

In addition, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) owns a conservation easement on property owned by Golden E Real Estate.  The easement prohibits the property owner from making any topographic changes, extracting subsurface materials, or altering the natural landscape or waters of the land that is subject to the easement.  In July 2013, Elbe graded and filled approximately 0.8 acres of a wetland and excavated a gravelly ridge on the conservation easement.  These activities all violated the terms of the easement.  Elbe and Golden E Real Estate were ordered to restore the wetland pursuant to a DNR-approved restoration plan.

 

Placing fill in a wetland can damage the functional values of the wetland, such as providing critical habitat for wildlife; water storage to prevent flooding and protect water quality; and recreational opportunities for wildlife watchers, anglers, hunters, and boaters.  Illegally dredging a stream can destroy vegetation and create conditions where flash flooding occurs more frequently.  The use of conservation easements has successfully protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat and open space.  The purpose of the easement at issue in this case is to ensure that the agricultural, open space, environmental, and scenic values of the property are protected in perpetuity.

 

Assistant Attorney General Bradley J. Motl represented the State.  The stipulated judgments were approved by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Shelly J. Gaylord on December 8, 2014; Sheboygan County Circuit Court Judge L. Edward Stengel on November 21, 2014; and Washington County Circuit Court Judge James K. Muehlbauer on November 24, 2014.

 

Copies of the Civil Complaints, Judgments, and Stipulations and Orders for Judgment are available at the following links:

Sheboygan County

Dane County

Washington County