Supervisors table decision on proposed rock crushing
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 10:52 AM
After hearing from citizens concerned about a proposed amendment to a sand quarry permit for nearly an hour Monday morning, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors voted to table a decision on the matter.
Last Tuesday (June 10), the Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-1 to allow Quandahl Family Trust Farm and Wiltgen Construction Company of Calmar to amend their conditional-use permit to add limestone crushing to their sand quarry operation located at 1842 Canoe Valley Road. Commission Chair Wendy Stevens was the only member voting no.
In 2010, the Commission recommended on a 5-4-vote that Wiltgen’s conditional permit to mine white sand be approved. The supervisors endorsed it, for a period of one year, on a 4-1 vote.
In 2011, supervisors agreed to renew the permit for five years on a 4-1 vote. The permit is up for renewal again on or before Aug. 16, 2016.
The current permit only allows extraction, processing and storing of sand. The quarry operators have asked to be allowed to extract and crush limestone on the site. The motion approved by the Commission allows limestone to be crushed for 15 working days per year at the quarry. Excess rock not used for building the base of the sand quarry can be sold, but must be hauled exclusively by Wiltgen Construction trucks and drivers.
The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, which ultimately will decide whether the permit can be amended, is scheduled to vote on the recommendation at 10:30 a.m. during its regular Board meeting at the courthouse Monday. Board members are planning to individually tour the quarry before Monday.
Board Chairman John Logsdon said the Board has 14 days after a recommendation to act on an amendment of a conditional-use permit. He said he and the other Board members had been del uged with e-mails and phone calls from citizens with concerns about amending the permit.
“I’d like more time to consider all the information provided. The issue is primarily traffic dust and speed on those roads,” Supervisor Dean Thompson said.
The Board’s decision on the petition has “big picture implications” for the county, according to Steve McCargar of rural Decorah.
“This is a pivotal moment for the county … this is a precedent-setting procedure,” he said. “The Wiltgens are in position for charting new territory with respect to this quarry.”
In its petition to amend the conditional-use permit, Chris Wiltgen said allowing limestone to be crushed on site would prevent the company from having to haul in rock that is needed to line the bed of the sand quarry.
While the Wiltgens made a credible case for allowing rock to be crushed at the quarry, McCargar said a “huge gulf developed when the question of selling rock entered into the discussion.”
“If you OK this conditional-use permit amendment you’re agreeing to a substantial and potentially neighborhood-changing use of that property five, 10, 15 years out,” he said.
Ownership and market changes could create substantial industrial activities to be permitted at the quarry, McCargar said,
“The limitation of crushing 15 days per year could be changed at any time,” he said.
The quarry was originally granted a conditional-use permit to make sure a balance was struck within the neighborhood, McCargar said.
“That balance will be completely undone if you allow the sale of rock over time. It won’t be the static picture of what we know today. An unknown set of circumstances will undoubtedly affect the neighborhood,” McCargar said.
Canoe Valley Road resident Kathryn Erickson said it’s a legal issue for her. She served on the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2010 when the original conditional-use permit was approved. Sand quarrying began before the property owner or Wiltgen received a permit.
“This quarry was illegally up and running … it got an illegal start. Now if you go ahead with further stuff, you’re just condoning it again. It doesn’t think it look good for the Planning and Zoning Commission or the supervisors. Nothing personal against Mark (Quandahl), but you’re condoning an illegal operation that got started and didn’t go to the P&Z until it got caught,” Erickson said.
Bob Watson of rural Decorah said 11 of the 12 citizens who spoke during the Commission’s hearing last week were against amending the permit.
“That seemed to have no bearing on the P&Z. They were not even taken into account,” Watson commented.
He said under the current procedure, the Commission only notifies contiguous property owners when land-use changes are proposed. In the case of the quarry, he said only four neighbors were notified; 100 people live within a one-mile radius.
“People much further away (than contiguous property owners) are affected by a quarry – in this case a new rock quarry if it goes through. But they are not considered neighbors and they can be ignored, which is exactly what happened last Tuesday night. The notification procedure should be addressed,” Watson said.
He also cited arguments made by Commission members who said an additional limestone quarry is needed for competition to keep rock prices cheap. Watson recalled Commission member Doug Egeland said Winneshiek’s rock is already $7 per ton versus $12 in surrounding counties.
“That is an argument for this quarry not being needed,” Watson said.
Another Commission member Mike McGee, said having another rock quarry would be good for all of the people in Winneshiek County. But because of increased truck traffic and noise, Watson said it would not be good for the 100 people living within a mile of the quarry.
Rock loads, speed
Supervisor Mark Kuhn asked Wiltgen how many loads of rock have been hauled in for lining the quarry base. Chris Wiltgen said 500 loads have been brought in since the start of the quarry. Wiltgen said he estimated two thirds of the rock crushed at the site would be used for the sand quarry base.
Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten asked if test bores had been drilled and Wiltgen said they had not.
Under the current conditional-use permit, Thompson said Wiltgen is allowed to haul 600 loads of sand from the quarry per month, but currently the average is about 250 loads a month. Thompson said limiting the loads to 250 should be considered because he’s concerned about what could happen if rock is sold from the quarry.
The original permit required Wiltgen to water Canoe Valley and a portion of Middle Hesper Road throughout the day when sand is being hauled to control dust. But after that created pot holes in the road, Wiltgen drivers were asked to slow down to help reduce dust.
Watson said after its first year in operation, residents complained to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) about dust, but were told the DNR would not do anything about it.
Instead of relying on the DNR, Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips suggested local officials could handle dust issues administratively.
“I ask the Board (of Supervisors) what do you want me to do? Film the area and maybe say it is too much dust?” Phillips asked.
Quarry neighbor Sarah Peterson, who lives on Middle Hesper Road, said her family’s biggest concern is what happens when the conditional-use permit is not followed. She said dust-control provisions are on Canoe Valley Road, not in front of her home where there are sometimes 500 truck trips a month because trucks travel to and from the quarry. She said neighbors were told the trucks would make a loop to the quarry so they wouldn’t be traveling in both directions in front of her house, but that takes longer.
Peterson said she realizes there will be dust in the country, but asked the Board if quarry neighbors had any recourse.
Having truckers drive at slower speeds on Middle Hesper Road -- the same as they’re driving on Canoe Valley Road – could help make a difference, said Peterson’s husband, Erik Sessions.
“I think there is a county issue here having to do with fugitive dust, traffic and speed. I think we need to look into that. If Wiltgen is driving a slow speed and other trucks are driving at regular speed and it’s dusty, it seems like a bad recipe. I’d like to see the engineer look into a speed study,” Thompson said.
Watson said the sheriff has already said he doesn’t have enough deputies to enforce speed limits around the county.
“You’re being asked to choose between quality of life and the request of over 100 citizens who were allowed to build in this place, and the desire to be able to make more money,” said Liz Rog of rural Decorah.
“I’ve gotten several e-mails saying we can’t allow this and that the supervisors are picking economic winners and losers. That’s not my mission in life at all,” Logsdon said.