Rock County Board of Adjustment postpones town of Milton gravel pit decision a third time

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Jake Magee
August 27, 2015

MILTON—The Rock County Board of Adjustment nearly reached a decision Wednesday night to approve a controversial town of Milton gravel pit, but confusion among members once again prevented a final vote.

An afternoon visit to the site of the proposed pit and hours of public hearings and deliberations preceded the board's eventual motion to uphold the planning and development committee's April decision to allow an aggregate mine in the town of Milton. Members were set to approve the pit with a slew of conditions from the town of Milton, Rock County Planning & Development Committee, and the board of adjustment itself.

Before each member made their final vote, the board's attorney, Andrew Phillips, asked them to state for the record that they had reviewed several factors of the shoreland zoning ordinance before coming to their decisions, as law requires. Members then became confused, asking for certain parts of the ordinance to be retracted as though they were conditions to the conditional-use permit.

After a recess, Phillips requested the board once again postpone its decision to make sure members completely understood what they were voting on. The board will reconvene Wednesday, Sept. 16, for its “final” vote.

Two hours prior to convening at the courthouse, the board and plan stakeholders met at the mine's proposed location. Michael Ettner, a representative of the company proposing the development, drove board members to the location to give them a better idea of the site.

Since its inception, the mine's footprint has changed considerably. Officials representing the project offered to shrink phase two of the pit by pulling it an extra 300 feet back from the property line away from the wetland. The board adopted the setback as one of the conditional-use permit's many conditions.

However, it wasn't enough for neighbors who have opposed the plan from the start.

“To me, when I saw the extra buffer zone, when I went around toward Klug Road, the thing that struck was how close really all this stuff is,” said Matt Fleming, an attorney representing neighbors who oppose the project.

Despite the buffer, the majority of phase two of the pit would still fall within 1,000 feet of a wetland, which the county has jurisdiction over.

Officials representing the pit said denying a conditional-use permit would eliminate the pit entirely. While about half of the proposed mine falls outside the shoreland zoning district and has already received final approval necessary from the Milton Town Board. Eliminating the mine in the shoreland zone would make the whole project “economically unfeasible,” officials said.

“The largest volume of available coarse aggregate material is found within 1,000 feet. The ridge between phase two and phase one has the largest in-place quantity,” a slide during Ettner's presentation read.

The proposed location contains high-quality aggregate that can't be found just anywhere, he said.

“If you were to deny this application … it would basically kill the application completely because there wouldn't be enough economic return,” said Charles Sweeney, an attorney representing the mine.

Fleming responded by saying it's not the board's job to worry about the profit of a gravel pit.

“How does that make this any more appropriate for the shoreland area? If it was inappropriate before, it's just as inappropriate now,” he said.

“That's what shoreland zoning is all about: Protect the areas you can't necessarily attach a dollar figure to,” he said.

Those in favor of the pit said they would follow best management practices.

“Even if they do all these best management practices, the risks aren't zero,” Fleming argued.

He noted there are no conditions for noise control and 85 decibels of machinery noise is a lot for a normally quiet area.

“That seems to me a pretty big pill to ask this neighborhood to swallow,” he said.

Ettner said noise conditions are included in best management practices.

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