Vocal town residents critical of proposed gravel operation, restoration of former Opitz property
Town of Saukville residents voiced their objections to a plan by Ozaukee County to quarry gravel from a Birchwood Road property during a public hearing before the town’s Quarry Committee last week.
Those comments were voiced even though the session was supposed to focus on what will happen when the last shovel of gravel is removed from the site.
The county has zoning authority on the 35-acre parcel and has already designated it for non-metallic mining.
The county purchased the Opitz property last year. The land is adjacent to the county’s hot-mix plant, north of the county-owned Guenther pit and west of the Lakeland pit.
Before gravel removal can begin, however, the town must approve the reclamation plan for the site. That authority is spelled out in Wisconsin Administrative Code NR135.
Last week’s hearing, which lasted more than two hours, was intended to provide feedback to the reclamation plan, but comments often strayed to residents’ desire to prevent the gravel quarrying.
Interest in the topic was so great the hearing had to be relocated from the meeting room at Town Hall to the former school gym. Officials estimated more than 40 town residents attended the hearing.
Residents expressed concern that the quarrying operation would create noise and dust, generate additional traffic on the rural roads, threaten the water table and wells, and decrease property values.
County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt, Administrator Tom Meaux, Land and Water Management Director Andy Holschbach and plan consultant Dale Buser of Stantec Consulting Services also attended the meeting, along with several county supervisors.
Schlenvogt said the county wanted to send a clear message to the town.
“The county wants to be a good neighbor. We want to make this work,” he said.
Despite the strong county presence during the hearing, the committee denied a request by county officials to offer a detailed explanation of the reclamation plan.
Town Supr. Kate Smallish, a member of the Quarry Committee, said that decision was made to treat the county and town equally.
“The purpose of the hearing was to get input from residents. The committee members had already agreed that we weren’t going to offer comments on the plan and didn’t think it would be fair for the county to offer its opinions,” Smallish said.
“Many residents said they thought the reclamation plan was insufficient, like not offering details on how any resulting water contamination would be handled and whether the town would take on any liability if it approves the plan.”
Highway Commissioner Robert Dreblow said the reclamation plan offers a long-range view of what the property will be like once gravel quarrying is complete.
The land is currently being farmed.
“The plan calls for restoring the property to include vernal ponds and natural wildlife habitat. That reclamation will be done as the quarrying operation goes, at roughly five acres at a time,” Dreblow said.
“People have a mistaken vision that this is going to be a 40-acre gravel pit. Once we get the gravel out of a five-acre section, it will be reclaimed and we will move on to the next section.”
According to the plan, the site has more than 400,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel, with as much as 360 tons of gravel that could be extracted. The county says that would be enough for between seven and eight years of quarrying.
“As proposed in the plan, no truck traffic will be hauling gravel on Blue Goose Road. It will all be hauled on internal roads to our two adjacent sites,” Dreblow said.
He said restoring the site to farmland would result in generating a considerable amount of truck traffic, because fill would be needed to replace the removed gravel.
By creating a more natural habitat, truck traffic to the site would be eliminated.
“The plan calls for stockpiling the topsoil on site, and then reusing it when the gravel quarrying is complete,” Dreblow said.
If the plan approval is complete this fall, quarrying would start immediately.
“We need the gravel for roads right now. According to the plan, we are looking at an impact of 10 years at the most,” Dreblow said.
The Quarry Committee has 60 days to review the reclamation plan. If changes are required to the plan, official said the approval process could take considerably longer.
Last year, the town implemented a $3,500 application fee for the quarrying permit.
County officials initially asked that the fee be waived, as is often done between governmental bodies, but the town held firm. The county has already paid the fee.
According to the plan, the cost of reclaiming the property will be $3,525 per acre. That process will include the planting of cover vegetation, along with clusters of woody shrubs and trees.
The plan notes that the county intends to set aside $35,255 as a financial assurance that site reclamation plans will be followed.
Dreblow said he understands the resistance residents have to allowing another quarrying operation in the town, but noted history is on the county’s side.
“I can see where people wouldn’t want a quarry in their neighborhood, but we have to go where the gravel is. The county has been in the town of Saukville since 1967,” he said.