Board, Residents Ask for Answers at Special Meeting Concerning Quarry

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MTT News's picture
Michelle Phillips

SPRINGFIELD–The Springfield Town Board had questions about the reclamation process and whether or not the land is grandfathered in as non-conforming for the planned expansion of the Meinholz Quarry owned by Yahara Materials on June 5. Homeowners near the quarry had some questions of their own. The special meeting, which had an item of revisiting a resolution on Dec. 18, 2018 concerning the reclamation, had a representative from Yahara, as well as their attorney, in attendance, trying to provide answers to both the board members and residents during the agenda item’s discussion. 

Town Chair Jim Pulvermacher told the crowd that after the December meeting, he thought the NR-130 permitting process for excavation had been stopped because the town had not heard anything else from Yahara. The item then came up on a City of Middleton agenda in late May.

Yahara purchased the land from the Meinholtz family and says that it falls under non-conforming zoning that was determined in 1969. It was registered as such according to Tim Geoghegan, a representative from Yahara. Although the non-conforming registration is common for quarries to protect further excavation of land from development. According to the town’s attorney, Mark Hazelbaker, there is no dormancy period for quarry land as there is for other property, which can be rezoned after 12 months of non-use. He cited two cases that upheld the protection of quarry rights.

“We are a prisoner, to a certain extent, of zoning from a long time ago,” he told the large standing room only crowd of several dozen people. 

“We wanted more time, but that didn’t happen,” Pulvermacher said of the permitting process. And even though the town has little recourse concerning the 1969 zoning and NR-130 permit, they can create local ordinances to deal with traffic, noise and hours of operation.

The property in question includes three parcels, one on the northeast corner and two on the south end of the Yahara property. The three parcels total just under 40 acres. 

Eric McLeod, Yahara attorney, said that the county had already confirmed the land as non-conforming in 2002 and again in 2015.

 “We are trying to avoid litigation,” McLeod added.

Dane County is still in control of quarry extractions, Pulvermacher told the group. 

“Many of you are disappointed that the quarry is going to expand. It is important enough that you filled up this room,” he said, and hopes to get a public hearing scheduled. 

Roger Lane of the Dane County Zoning Board was not at the meeting, but town representatives noted that Lane has questioned whether the property falls under the non-conforming registration. 

Property owners are concerned about blasting of rock, which already takes place at the quarry, and many said the blasts shake their homes. When a citizen asked how close the quarry could blast near their property, Geoghegan replied, “Ten feet, legally, but we never go closer than 200 feet.” Audible moans and whispers filled the room. 

In a twist of irony, he also revealed that the quarry had concerns about homes being built too close to the quarry several years earlier when Andy Meinholtz wanted to build a subdivision nearby. Part of that property was rezoned for business use while Meinholtz owned it. “That still does not change the non-conforming status,” Geoghegan said.

If it is not non-conforming, the quarry would need a conditional use permit from the town, Pulvermacher said. “The last time mineral extraction was in question, someone threatened to kill the town chair’s cows and poison his well,” Pulvermacher joked.

The reclamation process currently brings in dirt from construction sites and fills holes left by extraction. One of the concerns several citizens had was whether that soil was contaminated. Geoghegan assured the crowd that the soil is tested. 

“Is it tested for lead,” a man asked. Geoghegan answered that lead was not something they test.

Property owners also told the board that they did not know the quarry was there when they purchased homes in subdivisions close to the facility, until the first time a blast went off. 

A woman in the crowd asked if they could have a shorter window of being informed when blasting will take place. Currently, it is a four-hour window. Geoghegan responded that they could probably shorten that time frame. 

Others questioned whether the blasts were within the vibration limits set forth for blasting near homes, and Geoghegan said they were. He added that residents can have the quarry bring out a seismograph to check the vibration level and place it in the yard. A woman responded that she did not feel that reflected the vibration in her home, which she felt was greater than in her yard.

Resale value of homes was also a concern for many as were cracked foundations and other damage to homes from the blasting. Geoghegan responded by saying that the homes near the quarry sell at a fair market value and sell quickly. Several people shouted that was because the quarry was not included in disclosure.

Other concerns were safety to the public, which included contamination of soil and people getting into the mine. Once again, Geoghegan said the soil is tested before it arrives. Regarding people getting in the mine, high fences and signage would help to prevent that, he said.

Logging of a 22-acre stand of trees along the northeast edge of the property also had residents concerned. Geoghegan said that most of the trees would remain intact in a 100-foot-wide area. 

A man in the audience asked Geoghegan, “Don’t you have a moral and ethical obligation to pull that charge back? It seems money and greed trump moral and ethical standards here. Big corporations run all over us!”

In an additional twist, Madison attorney Larry Konopacki presented a second map that showed the southern property in question had actually not been part of the non-conforming land and urged board members to further explore the matter.

City of Middleton Common Council member Luke Fuszard attended the meeting as a representative of the city, and express concerns which included signage, the vertical wall height being too great and storm water runoff. 

The town board made a motion to ask the zoning administrator if the property was in fact non-conforming. The motion passed unanimously. A second motion was made to inform the county that the board would be sending information from the county to the zoning administrator. The second motion also passed unanimously.

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