Residents file lawsuit against Walworth County officials and receiver over shingle plant permits

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Andrea Anderson
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

ELKHORN—A group of Walworth County residents is suing the county, the county's zoning agency, a property receiver and an Illinois company over the permits for a proposed shingle recycling facility and land conditions at the property.

The lawsuit filed July 9 claims “misguided and neglectful exercise of political power” by public officials who “have abandoned the legal obligations of their elected and appointed offices, and permitted themselves to be used by third parties intent upon protecting their own economic self interest and position in the market place.”

Reliable Materials Corporation of Illinois, a property holding company, wants to purchase the property at W4186 Potter Road, town of Lafayette. It plans to have Southwind RAS of Illinois run its asphalt shingle recycling business on the 50-acre parcel.

Southwind RAS has about 20 locations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri. It's seeking an amended conditional use permit that would allow it to store shingles for up to 18 months. It would take materials such as asphalt and shingles offsite and process up to 10,000 tons of shingles per year.

The plaintiffs argue it would be illegal for the zoning agency to amend the existing conditional use permit when that permit violates county zoning ordinances. The plaintiffs want previous permits nullified.

Previous occupant B.R. Amon & Sons operated a gravel pit and asphalt plant on the land before going into receivership in April 2013. B.R. Amon & Sons ground shingles and dumped the material into an asphalt plant on site.

On April 24, 2008, the county issued a conditional use permit to B.R. Amon & Sons to recycle shingles at the location, referred to as Potter Pit in the lawsuit. But the permit's stipulations were violated when waste materials piled up and weren't covered, the lawsuit states.

The county approved an amended conditional use permit Jan. 19, 2012, after looking the other way, the lawsuit claims.

The amended permit allowed a construction company to recycle construction waste materials at Potter Pit. Materials were continuously accepted at the location but not recycled as directed by both permits. Waste eventually exceeded 40,000 tons at the location, the lawsuit states.

On April 2, 2013, attorney Ronald M. Carlson was named the property's receiver.

The Illinois-based company would not operate like previous tenants operated, Brian Lansu, president of Reliable Materials Corporation of Illinois and attorney for Southwind RAS, said at a Walworth County Zoning Agency committee meeting in June.

The company would grind the shingles into asphalt, then sell it locally and in Illinois to serve an expanding market.

At the meeting, a packed room of residents against the potential operation cited concerns such as air, water and noise pollution; traffic; and health risks. Numerous people said the area would turn into a “dumping ground” they don't want in the community.

The land bordering the pit is a “scarce resource” as “prime agricultural land,” and the material sitting at the pit for about two years could release asbestos into the air, the lawsuit states. 

Southwind RAS representatives said the company and the potential activities do not pose a health or environmental risks, citing several studies that found grinding shingles into asphalt does not lead to groundwater issues or release dangerous chemicals.

The committee tabled the decision until Thursday to gather more information.

“If allowed to go unchallenged, the perpetuation of the zoning ordinance violations which are the subject of this lawsuit will set the dangerous precedent in Wisconsin of favoring short-term economic gain over preservation of the environment and the safety and well being of the people,” according to the lawsuit.

In addition to the court finding Potter Pit's conditions violate the 2008 and 2012 permits and voiding the permits, the plaintiffs want Carlson to remove existing piles of waste material. 

The zoning agency committee is at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Walworth County Government Center, 100 W. Walworth St.

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