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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Porterfield Plans To Form Zoning/Land Use Committee

Issue Date: May 17, 2018

Partly in response to recent controversy over siting of a non-metallic mine (a limestone gravel pit) adjoining a residential subdivision on the Menominee River off Hwy. 180 near the end of County Hwy. G, the Porterfield Town Board on Wednesday, May 9 took some unofficial first steps toward forming a Land Use and Zoning Committee.

One of the first assignments of that committee would be to devise ways to regulate location and operation of mines, both metallic and non-metallic, in the future.

Town officials and about 25 residents were present for the meeting, and State Representative Jeff Mursau paid a visit. In addition to more ordinary business, the agenda included provision for "discussion and action on non-metallic mine."

The "non-metallic mine" issue had been the subject of a special town meeting on Tuesday, May 1, where Town Attorney Kim Coggins provided some advice on the gravel pit planned by Biehl Construction.

Coggins had told the people there that neither the town's existing nuisance ordinance nor a new one would result in shutting down the mine. If there are violations the result would be a fine which would get more significant as the violations continue.

He said private land owners also have the ability to take action under "private nuisance" provisions in state laws. He explained neighboring land owners could retain legal counsel and if they felt the mining operation was significant enough to impact their daily life they could think about commencing a lawsuit with the Circuit Court system. However, he said not to expect a very prompt resolution to a case, "...this could take months."

Mr. Coggins stated he is very acquainted with these types of issues. He was lead counsel involved with all the well and water issues surrounding construction of the landfill near the airport in Menominee County several years ago, and was involved with that for 10 years.

"Was there a lot of money spent?" he asked. "Absolutely!Experts submitted bills that ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But ultimately all the property owners were taken care of. They either received city water or they received new wells."

He said there is a mechanism in place that the judicial system will take care of. "Municipalities can't necessarily legislate that relief for you," he added, "all they can do is put appropriate permits in place.

"I heard a number of references to a reclamation plan tonight, as well as to water monitoring and dust abatement programs," Coggins said. "All those regulations are through the DNR and if there are issues that arise, then it's incumbent upon every one of you as a citizen in the community to make a complaint. You (need to) become very well known in Madison," he advised. "The area code for Madison is 608. You remember that " you will be dialing that a lot! If there are issues, that's how you address it."

"As I understand it the Town of Porterfield doesn't have zoning," Coggins went on. "That's a huge issue. If a business comes in they get the appropriate state permits and county permits, there's not a lot that can be done about it. I have told all municipalities that I represent, I tell them all the time, I believe zoning is appropriate, zoning protects us."

He said he had heard a lot of comments about people loving to live out here, partly because of the freedom. "I understand that, but most of the cities that you deal with, Marinette, Peshtigo, Menominee across the river " they have zoning. For that reason someone is not going to put a horse rendering plant next to my house in Menominee. They just can't do it. Unfortunately that's not the case here. You don't have zoning, so as long as the uses comply with existing law and permitting they're allowed to exist."

He added just because the businesses can exist does not mean they're allowed to exist unfettered. "If there are issues, then you have to make the necessary complaints. And do have a nuisance ordinance so you can ask that citations be issued for that. If there are ongoing problems with the operation, you have the county and you have the DNR and those are the people that you will have to make noise to."

At the May 1 meeting Biehl Construction spokesman Eric Bulin said the active portions of the quarry will be 500 feet from houses and 1,500 feet from the Menominee River. He said the company has insurance in case anything goes wrong at the site, or if blasting or other activities cause problems for neighbors.

At the April 17 County Board meeting County Administrator John LeFebvre, who formerly was County Zoning Administrator, said town zoning could regulate noise and other nuisances. He said the county's only jurisdiction was over approval of the final closure plan, which calls for a 20-foot deep pond with sloped sides, so if someone falls in they can walk safely out.

At the May 9 regular town board meeting Town Chair Dan Marzu commented that the town hall was filled for the special meeting, "And we had a very good, very orderly discussion." He said one thing the board will do as a result of that meeting is appoint a Land Use/Zoning Committee. He said that idea had been well supported at the May 1 meeting, and after it adjourned he had asked Steve Hemstock if he would head the new committee. Hemstock had agreed to do that. The next step would be appointing members, Marzu said, adding he would like to see broad base of members from all walks of life, male and female, and of different ages.

Supervisor Audrey Guseck pointed out formation of the committee was not on the evening's agenda, so it appears that formally creating the committee will apparently not happen until the board's next meeting, which will be on Wednesday, June 6.

Guseck felt they would need to budget for professional help with the zoning plan, probably through a contract with Bay Lakes Regional Planning Commission, so they could get something started now, "but we can't do much until we get some money." Marzu and Supervisor Donald Limberg suggested they might also get advice from UWEX Community Development people.

Guseck noted all the books and records from the previous Land Use and Zoning Committee, started years ago under the direction of Larry Theisen, are still available. She added that the Zoning Plan they came up with had lost hugely in a town-wide referendum vote.

"Does it have to go to referendum?" Hemstock asked.

Guseck said Coggins felt they would need one, and County Board Chair Mark Anderson felt they would not.

There was a brief discussion on that previous committee, which included Bob Veriha, Jim Shea, Mary Linstad, Marzu and others, and met over a period of perhaps 15 years.

"It's an extensive process," Hemstock commented. He said he has been doing some research since Marzu talked to him about heading the committee. He proposed a committee of seven members, young and old, with a lot of views, to flesh out whatever they can and then "adopt a minor example of what the committee thinks we should do."

Clerk Amy Linstad felt everybody in town should have a voice in whatever ordinance is adopted.

There was talk of comparing Zoning Ordinances of the Town of Grover and the Town of Peshtigo. Grover is zoned entirely agricultural, and any business that wants to locate there must get a conditional use permit. Someone felt the Town of Peshtigo ordinance had gone too far, become too detailed.

Marzu felt too large a committee would not work well, but said they also should not discourage public input.

Talk returned to the overwhelming defeat of the last attempt to adopt a Zoning Ordinance, and that many of the people at that time declared they not only disliked, but firmly hated the idea of zoning. At least one member of the audience declared they should not spend money on writing a zoning ordinance when it would probably never be adopted.

Decision on whether or not to establish a committee to deal with the zoning subject is to be made by the board in June.

In regard to the gravel pit/non-metallic mine issue, Guseck said she and Marzu had asked R&R Assessing for input on what effect, if any, similar facilities had on nearby property values in other residential areas. The answer appears to be that there is no impact.

The letter, read aloud, basically it stated that the location of an active pit does not have a negative impact on neighboring property values, "and if properly operated, they (residential areas and gravel quarries) can co-exist."

"We all have a lot of respect for Eric Bulin," Marzu commented. "I have worked with him a lot during the last few years, and my experience with him has been very positive."

Moving on to other business, Linstad reported there were applications from Handicapped United for liquor and operator's licenses for Porterfield Country Music Fest, the Crusin' 50s show and Snowmobile Grass Races to be held at Green's Green Acres this summer.

Marzu commented here never has been a problem with licenses for the Music Fest, but he did have a call from a man last year who wanted them to stop the music at 10 p.m. Limberg recalled complaints in the past about the festival itself.

After explanations from Linstad about costs and rules for special beverage licenses for special fund raising events board approval was unanimous.

Because a property for a period of 8 to 10 years was assessed as "fertile land" instead of getting a tax break as "agricultural land," there had been a "palpable error" in the tax roll. The board approved refunding $632.13 to property owners Wanda and Michael Brien to correct this error. Treasurer Wendell Phillips said the county and the school districts will eventually repay their proportionate shares to the town.

The spring road tour will cover two days, starting at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23 and Thursday, May 24. The board has 71 miles of roads to view.

The agenda called for action on professional services for Twin Creek Road. Former Town Chair Roger Runoe, on a volunteer basis, has been doing some work on proposed reconstruction of Twin Creek Road and East and West Oak roads. Marzu complimented the good job Runoe had done of writing up specifications for a bid on the planning and permitting work.

Payne and Dolan had bid $15,000 for the planning work and permitting needed for that project. Marzu said he had also gotten a bid from Coleman Engineering and their price was much higher.

"I have some specifications written too, and they're very similar to his," Guseck declared. "I'm not paying Payne and Dolan $15,000 for permits that we can get without them!" Going down the list of services proposed by Payne and Dolan, Guseck said the town itself can do most of the work. She said she and Limberg will work on getting the project permits.

"If you two want to do that, I'm suggesting you find out very soon, because the longer you wait the more the project will cost," Runoe advised.

Guseck asked Runoe to continue working on culvert replacements, and asked him to meet with the DNR at the installation sites to talk about what they need for fish passage and other issues. She said Marinette County Highway Commissioner Rick Rickaby had told her the town may be able to share culvert costs 50/50 with the county through county bridge aids, but repeated, "I do not - I will not - pay anything to Payne and Dolan for permits!"

Marzu said he had talked with Bulin about graveling needed in some places on town roads and it will be taken care of.

Mursau had come in before the discussion on road work began. He said Wisconsin Secretary of Transportation David Ross had been at the Crivitz Village Hall on Monday, May 2 for a "town hall" discussion on highway and transportation issues.

"There are some interesting things going on in the DOT," Mursau said. He explained simplification and cost saving measures Ross is implementing. For example, there were five layers of oversight for projects like Porterfield's Twin Creek reconstruction. Ross has managed to eliminate two of the layers and thinks there may be one more that he can get rid of, Mursau said. The layers of oversight have an effect on the cost of designs and obtaining the permits the board had just been discussing. He said those layers add greatly to the costs of road building for towns and the roads are no better for it. He also said every cost for towns has gone up, but state aid paid to towns has not, and levy limits remain in place, so budgets are strapped.

In other developments, Mursau said 600 people in Wisconsin are working with industrial hemp on an experimental basis. He said hemp, which some define as a non-THC variety of marijuana, makes better clothing than cotton, and also makes "kevlar," the main component of bullet proof vests. "There are 50,000 different uses,"Mursau declared.

Before growing hemp was outlawed by the federal government Wisconsin and Kentucky were the biggest producers in the US, and the product can be extremely profitable for farmers, Mursau said. He stressed they are talking about the non-narcotic version of hemp, and said Wisconsin has asked Washington to take if off the prohibited list.

He said legislators have changed the DNR permit process for plastic materials, including plastic bags and waste from cheese packing plant wrappers and drinking straw manufacturers, to be converted into jet fuel. If all the approvals go through a firm from Ohio plans to start a huge plant in Wisconsin.

Guseck introduced Wayne Ruechel, the town's newly hired building inspector. She said he issued one permit for a new house in the past month. Building permits are posted on the town hall door.

The board had received a letter from Circuit Court Judge Jim Morrison offering to attend one of their meetings to talk about Drug Court and Mental Health Court, one of the new programs being set up. He is to be invited to the board's July meeting. The next regular meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 13.


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