By Jennifer McBride
ROCK SPRINGS — Jeff Kozlowski took a step toward moving his big cat rescue operation Wednesday, signing papers to buy land in Rock Springs.
He officially purchased 27 acres and a home in Rock Springs from former Village President Dorothy Coens. He plans to convert it into the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center for his 24 lions, tigers and leopard. The $325,000 purchase was backed by an animal advocate in New Orleans, Kozlowski said.
Sauk County has been trying to close down his rescue operation — it’s located off Highway 136 east of Rock Springs — for zoning and ordinance violations. However, the move will put the refuge outside the county’s jurisdiction.
“If it’s in the incorporated area, the ordinances impacted do not apply,” county attorney Todd Liebman said Wednesday. Charges for past fines do not go away, he said.
“Obviously we want the cats moved,” Liebman said. “That’s the fundamental premise of our action. The cats should never have been there in the first place — we welcome anything that gets them out of there.”
Sauk County had raised six complaints against the refuge. These include claims that the refuge is a threat to public welfare because the cages are not strong enough and that its location does not obey zoning rules, according to court records. Also, the county alleges Kozlowski has violated its animal ordinance.
The Rock Springs Village Board has voted to allow construction of the refuge on the 27 acres. However, at a February meeting the board’s attorney said the village has to adopt new zoning rules to regulate it. Kozlowski said once he and the village work out the conditions of his permit, he hopes to begin relocating.
“It’s good that it’s finally moving forward and we can prove to the county the money is there,” he said.
As for past fines, “that’s a bridge that we will have to cross later,” Liebman said.