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Saving Seminary Woods—And More

Cardinal Stritch walks away from Cousins Center purchase

May. 6, 2009
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Environmentalists see an opportunity 

The cash-strapped Archdiocese of Milwaukee has put the Cousins Center in St. Francis back up for sale, now that a deal to sell the property to Cardinal Stritch University has fallen through.

“We have the same sense of urgency that we’ve had for the past two years,” said John Marek, chief financial officer for the archdiocese.

Less urgent but still in the works is a potential sale of 70 acres of undeveloped land known as Seminary Woods, which borders the Cousins Center and is owned by the St. Francis de Sales Seminary. A coalition of environmental groups is hoping to purchase that land and protect it from future development.

Delene Hanson, board president of the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy (MALC), said that the coalition has applied for a competitive federal grant from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program to purchase the land, and will know in June or July if its proposal has been accepted. An earlier application had been rejected in March. In addition, the group hopes to secure half of the funds to purchase the land from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund. “Seminary Woods is a very important woodland, one of the best remaining in Milwaukee County,” Hanson said. “We’re trying to make sure that it never gets developed by securing permanent protection for it.”

An Opportunity on the We Energies Land

The same environmental coalition is also considering buying the former grounds of the Lakeside Power Plant, 87 acres owned by We Energies that had also been sought by Cardinal Stritch. The university had hoped to expand its campus on the site and install athletic fields on it, but has since dropped its plans for the site.

Brian Manthey, a spokesman for We Energies, said that the utility is not actively marketing the site, but that the publicity generated by Cardinal Stritch’s expansion plans has made the public aware of the land. “It’s certainly for sale if somebody’s interested in it,” Manthey said.

Yet what remains of that power plant— namely, piles of coal ash capped by 4 feet of clay and topsoil—could limit development on that site.

Andy Boettcher, a hydrogeologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said that development on that land would require “extra special care” so that the coal ash piles aren’t disturbed. “The ash itself has some elements that you don’t want people to be in direct contact with,” Boettcher said. “And it could also leach contamination into the groundwater if it’s disturbed.”

But, he added, “There’s nothing that could preclude construction on the site” provided that the DNR signs off on it.

Members of the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy met with We Energies to begin a discussion about potentially purchasing that land or creating a conservation easement on it and leaving it undeveloped.

MALC’s Hanson said that the group is “awfully interested” in the We Energies parcel. “It’s a very important buffer for Seminary Woods,” Hanson said. “It’s also become a very good grassland bird habitat. Birds are on the decline. This is an opportunity to protect it.” Hanson said the coalition is considering its options.

“Cardinal Stritch’s decision was fortuitous for those of us who want to save those properties from development,” said Doug Booth, a member of MALC. Comment on this story at ExpressMilwaukee.com.


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