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August 19, 2014 | 01:21 PM
BLOOMFIELD — A town wildlife restoration project is in the works, but it could be several years before the public has a chance to see it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Ducks Unlimited to restore a natural wetland on 10 acres at N545 Highway H, near the Workmen’s Benefit Fund property, on the border of the town of Bloomfield and the village of Genoa City.

“That area, historically, would have been some kind of wet meadow,” Mike Engel, a private lands biologist with the service working on the project, said on the phone Aug. 13. “Through the years, it had been artificially drained by some kind of tile system.”

The conditional use permit requested by the service and Ducks Unlimited was scheduled to go before the Walworth County Zoning Agency Thursday, Aug. 21, at 4:30 p.m. On Aug. 4, the Bloomfield Town Board voted 3-0 to recommend county approval.

If the project moves forward, that system will be removed and a berm will be created to retain water on the property, providing a habitat for ducks, frogs and other water-living creatures, Engel said.

Eventually, it would become a part of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, a massive undertaking involving thousands of acres of land in Wisconsin and Illinois, including Walworth and McHenry counties.

On the phone Aug. 12, Town Chairman Dan Schoonover said “there was no glowing reason” not to support the request. “It’s going to provide another place where people can go and observe wildlife … it would be another recreational spot for the town.”

But Engel said it won’t happen overnight. “The stars have to align. There is a loose plan in place, but (it) needs to be the best thing for everyone involved.”

About a year ago, Ducks Unlimited purchased the 82-acre farmland property, which is still rented out. Engel said Ducks Unlimited intends to continue to rent it out for farming for at least another three to five years.

Although Engel said about 10 acres would become restored wetlands, the permit request narrative submitted to the town states 15 acres would be removed from “row crop production.”

“The intent is, over time, the land (15 acres) will be transitioned to a habitat,” Engel said. “The idea is that they will transfer the property to U.S. Fish and Wildlife at some point.”

That likely would occur after the restoration is completed.

“A berm and tile break will provide wildlife habitat and filter water entering Nippersink Creek,” the narrative states. “The basin will be 9 acres.”

Hackmatack “is not intended to be an instantaneous refuge,” Engle said, but “something that evolves over time.” He believes, once Ducks Unlimited transfers the land over to the service, then it will start to work on opening it to the public.

That could take several years.

“I think it will be a great asset to the community,” Engel said.

The permit

Typically, the zoning agency would recommend a course of action to the county board on the permit request. However, there’s a chance the request might be withdrawn.

Engel said the project may be modified to work within state and county guidelines for shore land and floodplain zoning. If so, the permit wouldn’t be necessary.

“We’re having some dialogue with the county about meeting their requirements and maybe making some moderate changes to the design so it would no longer require a conditional use. … If we make any changes, it would be to reduce the impact to the area, not increase it.”

They would do that by shifting the “dirt work” to the south, taking it out of the flood plain, he said.

The town board asked questions about parking and walking trails, Schoonover said, but there were no major concerns.

Engel had nice things to say about working with the town board and the neighbors. “There were some concerns about these changes, but overall, I think folks are happy about this. The plan is to help reduce flooding in that area, which has been a problem, and to help wildlife.”

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