Proposal would make rubble of plan for gravel pit
TOWN OF MILTON TOWN OF MILTON—A California dairy owner with ties to Milton has a proposal he says would prevent a wooded hillside that borders Storr’s Lake Wildlife Area from becoming a gravel pit.
He wants to see the land instead turned into a nature conservancy—and he’s got a plan he believes could win over landowner Scott Traynor and Milton town officials.
In an interview with The Gazette Tuesday, Mulder Dairy Farms owner Bill Watson said he’s putting together an offer intended to shoo away a controversial plan by Elkhorn company B.R. Amon & Sons to develop a gravel pit on a farm property east of North Klug Road.
Watson, a Rock County native, has owned dairies and farmland in the county for decades.
Under his potential offer, Traynor’s 230-acre farm, which includes the 137-acre parcel of land earmarked for the gravel pit proposal, would remain in its current state—a hilly mix of oak woods and crop fields that act as a natural buffer between developed residential areas and the sensitive marsh ecosystem at Storr’s Lake Wildlife Area.
The plan would involve a deal between interested conservancy foundations or, possibly, the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages the adjacent marsh area.
“It would be possible if the DNR or the nature conservancy or any of the groups that I’ve had experience with could make an agreement with the landowner to buy his land. He (Scott Traynor) would keep his current use and in return he could likely get a tax exchange that could allow him to expand his property (elsewhere),
“The problem would be determining how it makes sense for the DNR and the state to own it,” Watson said.
He called the plan similar to conservancy areas he’d set up decades ago in Florida as part of several residential developments he was involved in.
Watson said he’s reached out to town officials about the offer but has not discussed it with Traynor.
Traynor told The Gazette earlier this week that he was unaware of Watson’s emerging proposal and Town Chairman Bryan Meyer did not return calls from The Gazette seeking comment on the situation.
Watson said town residents asked him if he’d try to negotiate a land deal with Traynor that would prevent the property from becoming a gravel pit.
He said his stake in the deal is to see the land maintained as open space, because it would expand and enrich Storr’s Lake Wildlife Area and it would stop a fight between a developer, neighbors and the town board.
“The bottom line is that all the land that is owned by Traynor’s will be purchased in a manner advantageous for all parties,” Watson said.
Watson’s been involved in other deals in Rock County in recent years, including a failed bid to swap farm properties with the county as part of a proposal to build a new county fairgrounds and minor league baseball park on the south end of Janesville.
It’s not clear if the deal he unveiled this week would involve a land swap that could benefit Amon & Sons.
But Watson said under the deal, Traynor would be allowed to continue to farm the property as long as he wanted to.
Watson’s emerging offer comes as the town plans on March 11 to decide the fate of a conditional-use permit for Amon & Sons’ proposed gravel pit.
The company proposes to dig into about 70 acres of the 137-acre parcel and mine out gravel for road projects over the next five years.
Under the plan, crews would clear-cut a 26-acre oak forest and shaving off the glacial hillside, which slopes east toward wetlands.
Crews would later replace topsoil on the flattened hillside and reclaim the parcel as farmland.
Citing a consultant’s study, the town planning and zoning committee found Monday that the gravel pit plan failed to meet 11 of 12 criteria based on town ordinances.
If the town board issued a permit for the plan, it would likely have to be amended with 30 special conditions.
The plan sparked a grassroots campaign by neighbors along Klug Road who oppose the proposed gravel pit and are threatening legal action if the town permits the pit.
Like Amon & Sons, Watson has mining interests throughout the country, but Watson said he has no current mining interests in Wisconsin, and he has no interest turning Traynor’s property into a gravel pit.
“Knowing what I do about land use, I don’t think there’s a logical person on the face of the earth that would put a pit on that property,” Watson said.