- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A major donor to Gov. Scott Walker plans to buy 1.75 acres of prime lakefront property in northern Wisconsin from the state Department of Natural Resources, a newspaper reported, an agreement a former agency executive called a worrisome precedent.

The deal calls for the DNR to sell Elizabeth Uihlein - who owns an adjacent 11-unit condominium complex without lake access - 765 feet of frontage on Rest Lake in the Town of Manitowish Waters for $275,000, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1ipy8mi ) reported.

Uihlein and her husband, Richard, have donated nearly $3 million to Walker - now a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination - in recent years, the newspaper said.

Elizabeth Uihlein is a significant property owner in Manitowish Waters and is noted for her philanthropy, including paying much of the cost of a pavilion in the community’s Rest Lake Park. A town official said that project will cost more than $1 million.

But she has faced criticism for some activities and currently is under orders from Vilas County to replant trees at her condo complex after a worker she hired clear-cut foliage this summer on a portion of the property closest to the DNR land.

A DNR spokesman declined to comment to the newspaper on details of the transaction until it comes before the Natural Resources Board on Wednesday.

But a conservation group official said he will urge the board to reject it.

“Selling prime shoreland on a northern Wisconsin lake is a terrible precedent,” said former Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Lobbyist Bill Broydrick, acting as a spokesman for Elizabeth Uihlein, said in a statement that she is “dedicated to the improvement of the Town of Manitowish Waters. She wants it to be a pleasant place to live and visit.”

“The proposed purchase represents an arm’s length fair market transaction following the DNR’s determination that this leftover sliver of land was not essential to its mission,” he said.

Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein are the founders of Uline Corp., a Pleasant Prairie-based distributor of shipping and packaging supplies with more than 4,000 employees in North America.

The couple donated $2.5 million to Unintimidated PAC, a political action committee supporting Walker’s presidential bid that was formed in April, the Journal Sentinel reported last month. They contributed nearly $290,000 toward Walker’s elections for governor, and Richard Uihlein gave $200,000 to Our American Revival, an organization formed by Walker in January.

Meyer, the DNR secretary from 1993 to 2001, said no retired staff members he spoke with could recall the agency selling lakeshore or riverfront property to a private party without getting comparable land in exchange. He said the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation would support the sale if the DNR could get other land with similar water resources.

Records show the DNR received two appraisals - $238,000 and $384,000 - and negotiated a sale closer to the lower appraisal. The $275,000 price is $359 per foot of lake frontage.

In 1994, the DNR conveyed nearly 16 acres to the Town of Manitowish Waters, which planned to use it for a housing development. That property is now owned by Elizabeth Uihlein. State officials kept the lakefront portion for fishing and other public recreational activities.

Meyer said he was troubled officials got to this stage of a deal without getting public input and suggested Uihlein received “special treatment.”

Broydrick disputed that. “It is completely and totally unrelated to her support of Gov. Walker,” he said.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, https://www.jsonline.com


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