Gravel quarry plan generates controversy

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Monday, January 30, 2012
— Jace Vegter bought his one-story ranch home along Klug Road two years ago because he liked the rolling hills and the mix of nearby farmland, woods and marshes.

Vegter, 27, likes the peace and quiet of his property at 9704 N. Klug Road, which is adjacent to Storrs Lake Wildlife Area, a state wetland just northeast of Milton. From his back patio, he can grill and watch sandhill cranes as they fly in and out of the marshes.

But just to the east, in an area in plain view of Vegter's backyard, a 137-acre parcel of farmland and woods holds a trove of sand and gravel. There, next to the hills and wetlands along Klug Road, is a glacial outwash. A gravel quarry developer says the site is loaded with dolamitic rock—an ideal material for road building.

Elkhorn sand and gravel company B.R. Amon and Sons and a landowner are seeking a conditional-use permit from the town of Milton that would allow the company to mine 68 acres on the parcel and set up operations on site for gravel crushing and washing and concrete mixing.

Amon says a quarry along Klug Road would position his company to win state contracts to supply material for parts of the pending Highway 26 bypass project.

Vegter is among a group of residents calling itself "Friends & Neighbors Opposed to Klug Road Gravel Pit and Concrete Plan." The group's members, many of whom live along Klug Road, say the quarry would create heavy truck traffic, noise and dust. They argue it could hurt their quality of life and their property values and have an impact on wildlife at nearby wetlands.

"The peaceful setting out here is going to be totally transformed," Vegter said in an interview.

The group is organizing petitions against the quarry, and residents pressed town officials at a public hearing Jan. 9 to take a deeper look at the plan. The town's planning and zoning commission could give the board a recommendation as early as Feb. 13 on whether to grant the company a conditional-use permit for the quarry.

A plan opposed

Amon and Sons has a land-lease agreement with the Harold Traynor Trust, which owns the parcel where the quarry is proposed. The property is zoned for agriculture. Under the town's ordinances, sand and gravel mining is an acceptable agriculture use.

According to plans filed with the town of Milton, Amon and Sons is proposing an access road from the quarry onto Klug Road. The company would route trucks loaded with rock onto Klug Road, and the trucks would travel three-quarters of a mile north to County N. Trucks would pass several residences and Camp Wakonda, a youth summer camp located north of the proposed quarry.

If the quarry is used to fuel construction of the Highway 26 bypass, plans show it could run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with additional hours on Saturdays.

Some residents along Klug Road say they oppose heavy truck traffic on Klug Road because of the potential for noise and danger to families and youths at Camp Wakonda.

Amon and Sons and town officials are examining an alternative: an access road north through property owned by the Harold Traynor Trust. That would allow trucks from the quarry to exit straight onto County N, instead of Klug Road.

Under other plans, developers would remove trees on the quarry site and dig wells for sand washing ponds and other operations at the plant, including cement-production operations and sediment storage areas.

Although the company would keep excavation at the quarry at or above marsh level, Mike Foy, a DNR official who manages Storrs Lake Wildlife Area, told town of Milton officials Jan. 9 that noise and land disturbances at the quarry site would likely have a short-term impact on birds and wildlife.

Vegter worries the noise would permanently scare away the sandhill cranes that he sees regularly.

"They're very skittish creatures," Vegter said.

Linda Schalk, who lives on Klug Road adjacent to the proposed quarry and is a member of the group opposing the quarry, has a vineyard that produces grapes for area wineries. Schalk is worried that dust from quarry operations could damage her grape crop.

Meanwhile, residents along Klug Road seek to learn if the quarry plan could require an environmental impact study, or whether any parts of the plan conflict with town ordinances.

"This is like an onion, and we're going to peel back each layer of it so that we can know if it's going according to law," said Brandon Crandall, who is affiliated with Camp Wakonda.

An 'inalienable' right?

Company President Tom Amon said the company searched the area thoroughly for gravel deposits, and there are no other areas near the planned bypass that have enough or suitable gravel for road building.

"That's where the glacier put it," Amon said.

If his company had a town permit in place before March or April, Amon said, it could compete for early phases of the bypass project. If not, Amon said, the site has enough gravel to supply material for parts of the Highway 26 bypass over the next three years.

If Amon and Sons were awarded state road contracts, it would be required by law to upgrade and repair roads it uses to transport gravel, officials said. The company also would have to submit to state well and water testing at the quarry and supply a reclamation plan to return the site to farmland.

The company also plans to create temporary soil berms to cut down on noise and visibility of the quarry.

Town of Milton Chairman Bryan Meyer said he's studied the option of a quarry access road on County N instead of Klug Road. He said Rock County Highway Department officials indicated the alternative would meet minimum standards of visibility and distance from other entrances.

That would require a DNR permit, Meyer said.

Meyer said it's possible the town board could approve the quarry Feb. 13, but it would likely be with certain provisions.

Meyer said the town is reviewing individual concerns of residents to determine whether the concerns can be satisfied. But he called the request for a conditional-use permit for the quarry "inalienable," explaining that it's allowable under town rules.

"Property owners have a right to use the land. Neighbors have rights not to be harmed," Meyer said. "It's a gray area."

Last updated: 7:13 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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