AG Van Hollen: State obtains default judgment in Vernon County environmental case

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Bill Cosh


MADISON – Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today announced that the Wisconsin Department of Justice has obtained a default judgment against Thomas L. Ghelf (Ghelf) and Mississippi Sports and Recreation, Inc. (Mississippi Sports) for a total of $15,000 in forfeitures, surcharges and costs. The State of Wisconsin brought this case against Ghelf and Mississippi Sports for numerous violations of state environmental laws. The case was investigated and referred by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Ghelf and Mississippi Sports operated a ten-acre campground adjacent to the Mississippi River. This campground included multiple terraces for recreational vehicle parking, a camp store, tavern, shower building, and miscellaneous storage buildings. In addition, Ghelf operated a concession stand at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Blackhawk Park in De Soto, Wisconsin.

Ghelf and Mississippi Sports failed to implement and maintain best management practices to prevent soil erosion from occurring on the campground, failed to amend their erosion control and stormwater management plan prior to construction of additional terraces and a baseball field on the campground, violated their stormwater permit by refusing to allow DNR staff to inspect the campground, operated an unlicensed solid waste facility at the campground, burned garbage and plastic materials at the campground, maintained an unprotected buried suction line at the campground, placed material into a spring-fed pond (a navigable water) at the campground without a permit, and placed material into the Mississippi River (a navigable water) at Blackhawk Park without a permit, for a total of eight violations.

Ghelf and Mississippi Sports consistently refused to cooperate with the DNR and the Department of Justice and remediate the environmental violations, so the circuit court ordered them to comply with the permits they received from DNR, to properly dispose of the solid waste at the campground, including the burned debris, and to restore the spring-fed pond on the campground and enjoined them from further grading activity.

“The Wisconsin Department of Justice will continue to work with the DNR to ensure that Wisconsin’s citizens and natural resources are protected through compliance with the law,” said Van Hollen.

Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Mary Batt represented the state. Vernon County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Rosborough signed the order for default judgment.