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'Greens' consider buying We Energies land

April 28, 2009

Local environmentalists are exploring options for protecting a controversial 87-acre We Energies parcel in St. Francis from development, and may buy the property to do so.

The land has been the subject of debate since Cardinal Stritch University expressed interest in building athletic fields and a parking lot there; Friends of St. Francis Green Space members and other environmentalists were concerned the development would hurt the neighboring Seminary Woods and the wildlife that lives there.

The university withdrew its interest as a result of the ailing economy, but green space supporters remain dedicated to protecting the land.

Friends of St. Francis Green Space members recently met with We Energies representatives to explore the possibility of placing a conservation easement on the land, thereby creating a buffer zone for Seminary Woods and preserving the wildlife habitat there. A conservation easement would block development on the property.

Friends member Ray Klug said that during the conversation, We Energies representatives told the environmentalists the property is appraised at $3.1 million.

It is possible the Friends and other supporters will try to raise money and purchase the land, Klug said. If they do, it is likely the Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy would take ownership.

If the groups want to buy the land, they would need to raise at least $1.5 million in order to apply for financial aid through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, said state Rep. Christine Sinicki. The Democrat's district encompasses St. Francis, Cudahy and a portion of the south side of Milwaukee.

Klug said it would be "wonderful" if enough funds could be raised to buy the We Energies land, but he is not sure where they are going to find the money.

"Hopefully we find a rich benefactor somewhere," he said.

Brian Manthey, a spokesman for We Energies, said the land is for sale, but that representatives are not "aggressively putting it on the market."

"We did not actively look for a buyer until Cardinal Stritch came to us," he said.

Manthey said discussions involving the environmental groups and We Energies officials were "an exchange of information."

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

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