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Mining bill headed back to drawing board

Mining bill headed back to drawing board

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Environmentalists and local government officials from around the state who spent nearly ten hours testifying before the state Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue may have made an impact on the author of a controversial legislative proposal that could affect local governments.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said Oct. 27 that he is going back to the drawing board on Senate Bill 349, a bill he co-sponsored that would limit the powers of county and local governments over mining operations.

The bill mostly drew ire from opponents of frac sand mining, but could have limited the power of town and county governments to deny exceptional or conditional use permits and rezoning applications for virtually any non-metallic mining operation.

Tiffany said the bill would be revamped and likely wouldn’t be introduced for another year.

Sauk County Board Chairman Marty Krueger acted quickly last week to express his concern about the bill.

In Sauk County, rezoning requests are heard at the by the county's Board of Adjustment, but typically that board follows recommendations made by local township boards.

On Oct. 23, Krueger, who also is president of the Wisconsin Counties Association, met privately in Madison with bill sponsors Tiffany and representatives of Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, and a number of WCA lobbyists.

Krueger said he believed the group was successful in explaining its concern about how the bill would impact local governments during a 2-hour meeting.

“This really touches all types of non-metallic mining, and issues from farmland preservation to highways,” Krueger said. “So I think that’s why the meeting took two hours. Sen. Tiffany told me that being a former town supervisor himself, he doesn’t want to denigrate local control.”

But Krueger said be believes the proposed bill, if passed, could do that.

“If mining companies want to expand, they currently have to come to the Board of Adjustment and make a proper application,” Krueger said. “If you read this bill, that wouldn’t be necessary. As long as you own the parcel, you can expand the scope and width of the mining operation without further review.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Voss, R-Burlington, said last week the Assembly was not likely to consider the proposed bill in this session.

But Krueger said that didn’t matter to him and members of the WCA.

“I will spend my energy working with the WCA and its resources to correct what’s problematic in this bill,” Krueger said. “I arranged a meeting with the two legislators right away because it gives us a better chance of getting better legislation passed.”

In August, the Town of Troy denied the Kramer Company an exceptional use permit for a gravel quarry on 60 acres owned by Scott and Linda Fuchs near Schauer Road and Highway 60, claiming the quarry didn’t meet guidelines set forth in the town’s comprehensive plan that restricted two quarries from operating simultaneously.

Town of Troy plan commission chair Greg Sprecher said it was the comprehensive plan and the many voices in opposition from town residents that resulted in the denial.

Charity Armstrong was among those most vocal against the Kraemer Company request.

She also attended the ten-hour hearing Oct. 23 held by the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue.

“The bill amazes me in its bold denial of local towns to have any say in mining,” Armstrong said. “Our town was saved because of the town plan. The next step is to put together a mining ordinance. If this bill goes forward, why should the town waste the time to put an ordinance together when it could be an illegal ordinance in the future?”

Town of Troy board chairman Roger Mack said the plan commission would discuss how to approach the next request for an exceptional use permit for a gravel quarry, or any mineral extraction kind of mining.

But Mack said such an action might be futile.

“I’ve been on our town board a number of years, and when the state gets it in their head to do something, it happens regardless,” Mack said. “It seems to come back and then it’s a reality. The little guy really doesn’t count.”

Town of Merrimac administrator Tim McCumber said he did not support the bill, and hoped that Voss was correct when he said the State Assembly would not consider the bill.

“It’s written in such a manner that really goes further than most are willing to accept,” McCumber said. “They really go quite far in limiting a town’s ability to regulate the mining activity.”

Attorney Eric McLeod told the Senate committee last week it’s historically the state Legislature that has defined the authority of townships and other local governments.

“Towns only have the authority that is granted to them by the state Legislature,” McLeod said. “The Legislature is always in the position to determine the scope of town authority.”

Tiffany asked McLeod if mining-related exceptional use requests and rezoning requests were tied to a town’s comprehensive plan.

“It renders all the planning irrelevant,” McLeod said. “It becomes ad hoc and piecemeal. That’s why zoning should be the basis for land use decisions.”

Contact Kim Lamoreaux at klamoreaux@capitalnewspapers.com, or call 608-393-5777

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