A Town of Deerfield official and a historic Deerfield church are reacting to the insertion, last week in the state transportation budget bill, of language that could strip counties and municipalities of control over rock mining.
The proposed administrative rule change made public on June 11 would hand all regulation of nonmetallic mining to the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.
Pushing for the change are state officials and the mining industry who, in part, oppose ordinances adopted by counties and municipalities in recent years that are more stringent than state rules.
Deerfield Town Board member Bill Roelofs said state rules, for instance, allow blast vibrations that are about three times as powerful as allowed by a Town of Deerfield blasting ordinance put into place in 2015, that was further strengthened in 2016.
Most at risk in the Town of Deerfield, Roelofs said, is historic St. Paul’s Liberty Lutheran Church, completed in 1859, just down the road from the Oak Park Quarry on Oak Park Road. Over the past five years, the quarry and the church have continually faced off over blasting at the site.
Over the church’s objections, Forever Sand and Limestone of Edgerton, owner of the Oak Park Quarry, was earlier this year granted a conditional use permit approved by both the town and Dane County. The permit is good for five years, with an automatic five-year extension unless issues arise at the site.
The Town Board, in approving the conditional use permit, said it was confident its local blasting and mining operator’s ordinances were stringent enough to protect the church and other structures. No blasting has occurred at the Oak Park Quarry since he town’s new ordinances were adopted. And the quarry has not renewed its blasting license with the town, after it expired several years ago.
Jeff Furseth, manager of the Oak Park Quarry, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment
Roelofs said, however, handing control of mining to the state could be “devastating” for the St. Paul’s Liberty Lutheran.
The church, on June 17, released the following statement:
“St. Paul’s Liberty Lutheran Church is certainly concerned about the proposed resolution to eliminate all local control of quarries. We are currently trying to get a better understanding of exactly what has been proposed, but our major concern is, to the best of our knowledge, the state regulations have no provisions to protect historic buildings located next to an active quarry."
"We have worked diligently to get blasting level ordinances in place to protect the church and certainly don’t want them to be eliminated. We will be pushing for Governor Evers to veto this portion of the bill since there is no way at the state level to understand all the special circumstances local municipalities have to deal with. One overarching state regulation will not meet the needs of the local municipalities and therefore, the local municipalities should remain in control of the regulations.”
Roelofs acknowledged mining industry arguments, that more stringent county and local rules can increase their costs, make their operations less profitable and raise for consumers the price of gravel and other materials.
Roelofs countered, however, that such an increase is offset by protection of local historic structures and property values, “ensuring a good quality of life around quarries. I think that is certainly a cost that most people would be willing to bear.”
“I understand why aggregate producers would want uniformity in the regulations they have to follow,” Roelofs continued. But in some situations, including in the Town of Deerfield with a nearby, fragile historic church, he said it’s important that local government continue to have a say on a case-by-case basis.
Roelofs further said the proposed change negates “all the time and effort and money,” the town put into adopting its ordinances.
“We felt these things were necessary; we voted them in,” Roelofs said. “We felt we were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing, which it to protect the properties in our town.”
And Roelofs objected to the way in which the language was inserted into the state transportation budget bill, in a closed-door session without the opportunity for public comment.
He called that process “really disappointing.”
“This is much more than a budget issue, it is an issue of local control, and it really should see a debate in the light of day,” he said.
Roelofs also said he doesn’t believe that the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services has enough inspectors to adequately monitor quarry activity statewide.
“There are over 100 quarries in Dane County alone,” he said. “Multiply that by the entire state, and there is no way they have the staff to deal with this.”
Similar language handing oversight of quarries to the state was inserted into the budget two years ago and vetoed by then-Governor Scott Walker. Current Gov. Tony Evers has not yet said whether he will veto the language if it reaches his desk.
Roelofs said the Deerfield Town Board, which had its last scheduled monthly meeting on June 10, hasn’t had a chance to comment as a full board on the proposal.