The Waupaca County Zoning Committee voted Thursday, Nov. 29, to postpone a decision on whether to grant a permit for the proposed sand mine in the town of Union.
Instead, the committee is asking the town of Union to clarify what some claim is a typographical error on the town’s comprehensive plan.
According to Union’s comprehensive plan, no mining operation may be opened within 2,000 feet of a residence.
During the meeting, county Supervisor DuWayne Federwitz said he had heard that the 2,000 feet was a typographical error, that the actual figure should be 200 feet.
County Planning Director Ryan Brown told the committee that the reason the Union Town Board voted against the sand mine proposal because it would violate the 2,000-foot restriction in the town’s plan.
“Couldn’t they have amended that plan if they wanted to?” asked Supervisor Terry Murphey.
Two members of the zoning committee, Supervisors Bob Ellis and Dennis Kussmann, asked why the committee should ignore the town’s comprfehensive plan.
Kussmann noted that citizens in municipalities throughout the county had spent years developing a countywide comprehensive plan and wondered what it would mean “if we just circumvent it.”
“I think it was clear that the townsip said no,” Kussmann said. “The end of that sentence had a period.”
Ellis said he was concerned that the comprehensive plan would fail its first test because “money has entered the scene.”
The meeting began with Richard Carlson, an attorney working with the county zoning committee on the sand mine issue, explaining the committee’s role in granting or denying a permit.
“The ordinance provides that mineral extraction is a conditional use in an ag enterprise zone,” Carlson said. “This use is not a permitted use, it is a a permissablre use.”
He said a permissable use is decided on a case-by-case basis and that the co0mmittee would be required to impose any conditions that wsould protect the health and safety of residents and the public purse.
“The burden is on the applicant to prove to you that this would do no harm,” Carlson said.
Brown told the Zoning Committee that the owner of the proposed sand mine, A.F. Gelhar, had agreed to operate the sand mine 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday, instead of 24 hours, seven days a week.
The company had requested to operate its facility around the clock in order to meet the 24/7 production needs of Waupaca Foundry.
Although the mining equipment would not be operating through the night and weekends, Brown said the company wanted flexibility with the permit conditions to allow it to load trucks and operate a sand dryer during the eight hours when the mining equipment would not be operating.
Brown also recommended another condition of the permit be that the mining company not be allowed to use flocculants at the site. Chemical flocculants are often added to the sand and water mixture during the scrubbing process to separate clay and other materials from the sand.
There was little discussion of the permit’s other conditions because several supervisors were concerned with the county’s ability to actually enforce the conditions.
Kussmann asked Brown if the county would need to hire aditional staff to ensure that Gelhar met the conditions of the permit.
Brown said the zoning department did not have the resources to be able to drive around and enforce zoning ordinances. He said enforcement of other conditional use permits in the past were usually complaint driven. A neighbor called the zoning department to report a problem, then a member of the zoning staff visited the site.
“My concern is that we don’t have another operation like this,” Kussmann said.
Kussmann said he was also concerned with how blasting at the sand mine would impact the groundwater in the area.
Ellis also questioned the urgency of the foundry’s need for a large sand mining operation in Waupaca County.
“I know this is good for the foundry,” Ellis said. “Buyt the foundry is going 24/7 now without one bucket of sand from this proposed minnd.”
Supervisor jack Penney, who chairs the zoning committee, said he supported granting a permit for the sand mine because he believed the conditions as stipulated by the town of Union and the Zoning Department would protect the people who lived in the immediate area, protect the residents of the town of Union, and benefit the entire county.
Federwitz asked if the committee could vote to send the issue back to the Union town board to correct the 2,000-foot setback requirement in the town’s comprehensive plan.
Carlson said the county committee could postpone a vote until after the Union Town Board had clarified its position on he 2,000-foot limit.
The committee then voted unanimously to send the matter back to the town board.
After the meeting, Union Town Chair Barb Nollenberg told the County Post that she could not recall the conversations that led up to the 2,000-foot setback required in the comprehensive plan.
“I don’t know,” she said when asked if 2,000 feet was a typo. “The draft should have been proofread.”
Nollenberg said the town board would now need to discuss whether it wanted to change the wording in the comprehensive plan.
“It is not a process that you can do in a single meeting,” she said, noting that both the Planning Commission and the Town Board would need to discuss any changes in the comprehensive plan. She said changes in the comprehensive plan would require public notice and, perhaps, a public hearing.
Steve Sorenson, an attorney and spokesman for A.F. Gelhar, said he was disappointed with the committee’s decision.
“We thought we had answered all of their questions,” Sorenson said. “They keep talking about frac mining, yet one of the conditions we agreed to was that there would be no frac sand. We compromised on the hours of work, on the road agreement and on a well agreement. People are not getting a correct image of what a foundry sand mine is.”
Sorenson said he expects that it will take at least 60 days before the county will reconsider the sand mine permit.
Opponents of the sand mine were also disappointed with the committee’s decision to postpone a decision.
“It’s a political hot potato,” said Carol Peterson, who is with Preserve Waupaca County. she said her group would be meeting Thursday night to discuss future strategy.
Another member of the citizens’ group, Kelly Ramstock, said tthe 2,000-foot restriction was not the only conflict between the town’s comprehensive plan and the sand mine proposal.
She said the town’s plan also set a limit of nine acres of farmland that could be converted to mineral extraction.
And if the 2,000-foot restriction should actually be 200 feet, Ramstock said that two residents live within 200 feet of the proposed site.