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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - Home improvement retailer Menards has decided to build manufacturing and distribution centers in Iowa and Ohio, resolving a longtime wetlands dispute with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, a newspaper reported.

Eau Claire-based Menard Inc. had wanted to build in the Eau Claire area but the DNR wanted preserve two small wetlands on the town of Union site near Menards' headquarters.

"We spent more than three years of frustration and over $1 million of our money trying to build this project here in Eau Claire and never received permission to do so," Menards spokesman Jeff Abbott told the Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire. "We are obviously frustrated and disappointed."

Menards portrayed the DNR's steps as regulatory roadblocks. DNR officials said they were protecting the environment and didn't treat Menards differently than any other entity seeking to fill a wetland.

In February of 2005 Menards announced that two expansions involving 185 jobs would go elsewhere because it couldn't get DNR approval for the proposed building near Eau Claire.

Menards reported it added 100 workers to its truss plant in Plano, Ill., and 85 others to the store fixture manufacturing plant it opened in a former Menards store in Belgrade, Minn.

The company now says Eau Claire lost out on another 600 to 800 jobs that will by divided among distribution centers under construction in Shelby, Iowa, and Holiday City, Ohio.

"Because the (Eau Claire) warehouse project wasn't approved, we spread the jobs to other locations," Abbott said.

Dan Baumann, water leader at the DNR's west-central regional office in Eau Claire, said the agency approves about 97 percent of applications for wetland fills, although the process often includes some give and take.

"If a proposal meets (state) standards, we issue a permit," Baumann said. "If it doesn't, we work with the applicant to try and find a way to revise the project to meet their needs and meet the state standards."

Menards officials argued that their proposal for building a 750,000-square-foot seasonal storage warehouse would have helped the environment because they offered to offset the loss of the "so-called wetland" by creating a much bigger wetland.

"We felt that we could replace it with a very high-quality wetland in the immediate vicinity for a win-win situation for wildlife, jobs and all concerned," Abbott said.

The problem with that is Wisconsin standards allow mitigation only as a last resort, Baumann said.

Applicants seeking a permit to fill a wetland are required to look for ways to avoid the negative impact. If that proves impossible, then entities must try to minimize the impact before mitigation is considered, Baumann said. Menards never made it past the first stage, he said.

Construction began this spring on a 735,000-square-foot facility in Shelby, Iowa, for Menards subsidiary Midwest Manufacturing that will make pre-hung doors and serve as a distribution center. The $32.7 million complex is expected to create 300 to 400 jobs within three years.

Work started this summer on a 669,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution complex in Holiday City, Ohio. The project's first phase is expected to create 300 to 400 jobs.

Baumann said agency officials would be open to considering any new developments Menards might propose for that land.

Information from: Leader-Telegram, http://www.leadertelegram.com/

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