Local residents packed the small meeting room of the town garage, 838 London Road, Deerfield, for a regular Deerfield Town Board Meeting on Dec. 14.
Along with other agenda items, Public Comment – which had not been permitted for the last two board meetings – was slated for residents to address any issue not itemized for discussion.
Town Clerk Kim Grob informed the Chair, Mike Schlobohm, that three people had sent letters requesting to speak; however, since they were all in attendance to talk about the quarry and mine blasting issue, Schlobohm arranged for them to speak on that item at the appropriate time.
There were other concerned parties who also attended the meeting, one of them being the vice president of the Dane County Towns Association, Tim Roehl.
Roehl is Supervisor No. 1 of the Town of Middleton, which is a member of DCTA and the Wisconsin Towns Association (WTA), to which the Town of Deerfield is a dues-paying member.
Roehl had been following the quarry dispute, fueled by a handful of local residents who are angry at the mining blasting and operations of Oak Park Quarry, owned by Joh Halverson. This time, Roehl was there at the behest of the president of DCTA, Gerald Derr.
“There are a lot of eyes on the Town of Deerfield right now,” Roehl declared that night.
In a phone interview the following day, Roehl went into depth on the impact the quarry brouhaha is having statewide. With possible ripple-effects that could impact the 1,255 towns of Wisconsin, the controversy is seen as having a larger implication than just this rural township, which has racked up substantial attorney bills over this single issue alone.
What is disconcerting to other town officials that have taken an interest in how the Town of Deerfield Board of Supervisors has chosen to confront the mining controversy is the supervisors’ inability to resolve this problem.
Roehl stated to those assembled Monday evening that, directly due to the Deerfield supervisors’ lack of willingness to come to a compromise, the state legislature is now aware of the difficulty and may consider legislation that will settle the issue at the state level. This is something the towns would rather avert, for whatever might be legislated for a single township could adversely impact other local governments and their wards.
None of this seems to concern the insistent core of opponents who have made a mission out of “proving” that Halverson is a troublesome commodity for the township.
Further, they contend, with all his alleged blasting infractions, Halverson should, ultimately, have his quarry closed down.
It was stated that these self-appointed guardians of the town’s resources go so far as to follow Halverson’s trucking clients down the road to monitor their actions, contact whatever agency or official who will listen to their complaints, and meticulously maintain an ongoing “violations list” of all Halverson’s blasting data infractions.
A resident who spoke upon guarantee of anonymity said, “The real issue for the township is this: a few city folk decided to retire out here and found out that things aren’t the way they imagined. They find out other folks are living here, making a living as farmers or rural businessmen, but the retirees don’t’ want to smell the chicken manure or hear a blast going off in their retirement paradise. So, they complain.”
Those in opposition to the quarry have spent money on their own attorneys to bolster their case and, to the chagrin of many of the town’s residents, have racked up attorney bills for the Town of Deerfield. Although the exact amount hasn't been released it is thought the figures are somewhere between $20,000-$35,000.
“That’s a great deal of money for a town like Deerfield,” Roehl said, “whatever the actual amount.”
The confidential resident asserted that if the town folk really knew how much is being “wasted” on unnecessary legal fees, “these shenanigans would stop.” However, the entire imbroglio is being driven by neighbors of the quarry.
The unnamed resident said, “These city folk who’ve come here are anything but good neighbors.”
It was also pointed out that, if the quarry is forced to close down, the owner would no longer be on the town’s tax base to help repair local roads, which he now uses and pays maintenance fees for.
The Dane County ZLR committee recently met and the Deerfield Town quarry issue came center stage. The bottom line? The committee recommends that supervisors, Halverson and their attorneys meet and resolve this issue, reporting back to the committee at their next meeting on Jan. 12, 2016.
The five-person committee, of which Bob Salov, Cambridge EMS Director and County Supervisor, is a member, does not want the issue to continue, creating financial problems for the town, generating a great deal of adverse publicity across the state, and being perceived as a movement spearheaded by a group of neighbors who have only their interests at heart.
To that end, Halverson has hired Mindy Ochs, a licensed professional engineer working for Endpoint Solutions who has mediated community conflicts in the past and has a substantial resume relating to mine safety and health administration regulations.
She addressed the board and offered to provide her expertise for helping resolve the conflict.
Roehl also suggested that Renee Lauber, president of Lauber Consulting and used by the DCTA for related matters, be called upon to become part of the process. Lauber is seasoned in such negotiations and has provided “great service” to the DCTA.
One of the most vocal of critics, Brian Berninger would have none of it. As far as he is concerned, the entire mining matter has already been negotiated; in fact, he asserted, that was what the ordinance committee meetings were all about as they originally drafted the mining blasting ordinance.
“The time for negotiation and compromise is finished,” he emphasized. He feels it is now time to enforce the mining ordinance on the books, take Halverson to court for multiple violations, and make him pay the assessed fines.
But in fairness to Halverson, he claims the board is not living up to the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that is currently in effect, permitting him to perform under standards that were in place at the time of CUP’s approval.
After the CUP expires, Halverson fully expects to have to conform to the standards set, which many other watching officials from other townships think are very restrictive, if not adverse to mining interests as a whole.
The current hope is that the stakeholders will meet and come to terms before the Jan. 11, 2016 Deerfield Town Board meeting. If not, they will face the displeasure of the ZLR Committee the following day.
If a compromise can't be found, the town won't only have to face mounting attorney fees, growing ill-will among its residents and negative perceptions statewide, it will also confront a new level of government involvement that could involve the State Legislature, as well.