The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC) certification of Stevens Point’s East Park Commerce Center (EPCC) through its Certification Sites Program has been paused pending a review of the area for Karner blue butterfly habitat.
“We’ve basically been put on hold,” said Michael Ostrowski, the city’s Community Development director.
The Karner blue butterfly is an endangered species. Certain areas within the 762-acre EPCC, especially the road and railroad right-of-ways, may have Karner blue habitat, according to a review by AECOM, the engineering firm that helped the city prepare its application for the state’s program.
Kyle Wagoner, AECOM project manager, said specialists at the company were unable to observe the butterfly habitat, which consists of wild blue lupine, in its initial report last fall due to the time of year.
“We’re not sure it exists,” said Wagoner. “We made the city and WEDC aware we couldn’t do a full assessment… The WEDC has asked the city to do an assessment probably in May or June of 2013.”
Wild blue lupine blooms in late May through mid-August.
“The endangered species part is key,” said Mayor Andrew Halverson. “The certification part of it is that when a developer comes in there’s no question about anything… that’s what’s all about, that it’s literally shovel ready.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 19, the WEDC announced nine certified sites located in Howard, West Bend, DeForest, Fitchburg, Beaver Dam, Prescott, Menominee, Beloit and Janesville. Stevens Point was not on the list. It’s unclear if the WEDC will certify the city’s site once the issue is resolved or if it will have to wait for another round of certifications. A call for comment to Graham Callis, a WEDC researcher who works on the Site Certification program, was not immediately returned.
“Once that gets resolved then hopefully we’ll get certified by the state,” said Ostrowski, who said it is unlikely the city will have to submit a second application. “Given the size and complexity of the site, to have so few issues, I think is a great achievement.”
Halverson said it was just a matter of waiting. “On any parcel for example that doesn’t come in contact with (likely habitat), we’re ready to roll,” he said. “Even if (habitat) is discovered we don’t think it’ll be a big issue.”
Kent Hall, a retired University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point biology professor who publically questioned the thoroughness of the endangered species assessment back in October, agreed. “All that area could be saved and preserved along the railroad track,” he said.
Hall said he was impressed with the integrity of the consultants regarding the issue. “They’re really not taking any shortcuts,” he said.
The Stevens Point Common Council approved annexing and rezoning 762 acres on the southeast side of the city from the towns of Plover, Stockton and Hull for future industrial development as the East Park Commerce Center Monday, Oct. 22.
The EPCC is located east of the Portage County Business Park, bordered on the west by County Highway R (Brilowski Road), on the north by the Canadian National railroad, on the east by Burbank Road and on the south by County Highway HH.
The WEDC Certified Sites program was announced by Gov. Scott Walker in early 2012. It aimed to pre-certify 30 sites for business development in Wisconsin from 2012 through 2014. Certified sites will be widely marketed by WEDC to businesses looking to locate in the state.