The Pelican River Forest was one of five projects rejected by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) at a hastily called public meeting on April 18. The JFC oversees state agency expenditures including land conservation deals in the northern part of the state or requests for more than $250,000 from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
Wisconsin Watch reports that some groups have questioned the committee’s use of a “secret process” to block projects and also the legality of not setting dates for public meetings to review the projects halted by anonymous committee members.
By law, the JFC has 14 days after receiving a funding request to object. If an objection is raised, the committee must schedule a public meeting before that 14 day review period expires. The JFC’s April 18 meeting, called with barely 24 hours notice, reviewed five projects that had been delayed by anonymous objections, one for nearly two years. In less than 40 minutes and with no public testimony, the Republican controlled committee rejected all five projects.
Land conservation groups and some members of the committee do not believe the JFC’s April meeting goes far enough to satisfy the law.
“Because they failed to schedule that meeting within their 14-day passive review window, they don’t have any legal authority over the expenditure,” said Charles Carlin of Gathering Waters, Wisconsin’s Alliance for Land Trusts.
For the Pelican River Forest project, Carlin said the ball is back in the DNR’s court.
Featured image by Ken Mattison, 2016.