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MADISON — Democrats said a move to standardize erosion control rules for commercial construction sites is another effort by Republicans to take power away from local authorities.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee added the provision to the state budget last week. It would keep local governments from enacting ordinances that are stricter than rules enforced by the state Department of Natural Resources. Currently, the state Department of Safety and Professional Services is in charge of such regulation.

Democratic Rep. Cory Mason, of Racine, told the Wisconsin State Journal the provision caters to corporate interests by letting the state set standards as low as possible.

“It doesn’t seem to make much sense if you believe in local control and finding innovative ways for local municipalities to work with developers,” Mason said. “… If your view of it is that, on behalf of builders you want to make standards as low as possible, then maybe it does. But if you’re actually trying to find ways for communities and developers to find ways to be innovative and work together, it’s a step backwards.”

Republicans, however, argued the provision would benefit the communities.

“Ideally, cities should be able to save money because they don’t have to go through the process of setting up their own standards if they’re just following uniform standards,” said Danielle Zimmerman, a staffer for provision supporter Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, R-Cascade.

DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said the statewide standards developed under the provision would need to regulate construction site erosion control and store water discharge in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Cosh said the DNR doesn’t take a position on the legislation.

But Mason insisted the Republicans are trampling on local authorities’ decision making.

“I think the Republican argument on local control is now entirely bankrupt,” he said. “It revealed itself to be, ‘We believe in local control as long the municipalities do what we like. If they don’t, then we’re happy to reduce standards and have our own way with things.’”

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