Supervisors will consider Canoe Valley quarry recommendation Monday
Commission votes to allow limestone crushing after 3 1/2 hour discussion
Thursday, June 12, 2014 2:30 PM
The Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending a sand quarry on Canoe Valley Road be allowed to begin crushing limestone on its site.
After a public hearing Tuesday night, The Commission voted 7-1 to allow Wiltgen Construction to amend its conditional-use permit to add limestone crushing to its operation. Commission Chair Wendy Stevens was the only member voting no.
The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, which ultimately will decide whether the permit can be amended, will consider the recommendation at 10:30 a.m. Monday, June 16, during its regular meeting at the Winneshiek County Courthouse.
The Quandahl Family Trust Farm and Wiltgen Construction Company of Calmar submitted a petition to the Commission seeking to amend their conditional-use permit for the quarry at 1842 Canoe Valley Road. The site, north of Decorah, is approximately 15 acres.
The current permit only allows extraction, processing and storing of sand. The quarry operators asked to be able 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 trucks and drivers. Concerns were raised during Tuesday’s hearing that other truck drivers might not be as courteous as the majority of the Wiltgen drivers.
The Quandahl/Wiltgen petition also asked to expand the quarry’s current hours of operation of 7 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition, the petition requested an end to a requirement that calls for the permit to be renewed every five years. The Commission did not approve amending the hours or ending the requirement that the permit be renewed.
During a two-hour hearing on its request, Wiltgen’s attorney, Eric Fern, and Chris Wiltgen, said conditions of the permit are “making it impossible to stay competitive” within the market. Fern explained the ability to crush rock is the “most important aspect” of the permit’s amendment request.
Wiltgen currently strips and dynamites 35 feet of limestone “overburden” and then throws it away because Wiltgen is only allowed to process sand at the quarry. Crushed rock has to be hauled into the site for the base layer of the quarry, Fern said. If rock could be crushed on site, it would limit some of the track traffic at the quarry, he said.
“It would be more cost effective and make more sense,” he said.
Bob Watson of rural Decorah, who has children and grandchildren living near the quarry, said using an economic argument as the basis for changing permit conditions is a precedent the county shouldn’t be setting.
Stevens said she didn’t want the Canoe Valley neighborhood to become dustier and noisier. She said she is “OK” with the sand operation but adding limestone crushing is a “totally new use” for the quarry. While she said it doesn’t make sense to waste the product she said she didn’t think it would be appropriate to amend the permit to allow limestone mining and crushing because the quarry operator didn’t do exploratory testing to find out the limestone was there.
“Every resident of the county benefits from quality limestone … I would be in favor of it – it benefits the county,” Commission member Mike McGee said.
The majority of the speakers from the public were against amending the petition.
Steve Peterson, who lives on Middle Hesper Road near the quarry, said the Commission was wise to recommend the conditions it placed on Wiltgen’s permit.
“There is no compelling reason to change those,” he said.
Peterson said the quarry operator could have checked records kept when wells in the area were drilled to determine whether there was limestone at the site.
“It was simply poor planning. We want traffic to decrease. I’m worried crushing rock could increase traffic,” he said.
Canoe Valley resident Ed Brooks said he had no problem with limestone crushing at the quarry as long as it was for only a specified number of days.
Erik Sessions who lives near the quarry on Middle Hesper Road said Wiltgen should be required to obtain a new permit to crush limestone on the sand quarry site.
Canoe Valley resident Craig Mosher said the area surrounding the quarry is really a residential area. He said asking the neighborhood to put up with additional traffic and dust because borings that could have revealed the presence of limestone weren’t done is not fair.
Ashlee Holst, who lives on Canoe Valley Road, said when she moved into her house in 2013 she was aware of the sand quarry. She said she’s had no complaints but is concerned about the permit amendments Wiltgen was requesting.
“The language is very ambiguous,” she said
“If signed as is, without details spelled out, it could lead to a lot more than a sand quarry we’re living next to,” Holst said.
Property values will be impacted if the sand quarry also becomes a rock quarry, she added.
Down the road
Steve McCargar of rural Decorah said although the current quarry operator may have the best intentions that might not be reflected by a new owner 10 to 20 years from now.
“It’s important for you to understand because of promises you make today, it doesn’t mean down the road you’re not going to see something completely different,” McCargar said.
During their deliberations, Commission members discussed dust concerns, and the need to impose a 25-mile per hour speed limit on the roads near the quarry. Stevens said original conditions required the quarry operator to water the gravel road to keep dust down. Phillips said some neighbors complained about the “pitting” the water was creating in the road and were happier with the truck drivers reducing their speed.
In 2010, the Commission recommended on a 5-4-vote that Wiltgen’s permit to mine white sand be approved. The supervisors approved it, for a period of one year, on a 4-1 vote.
After the permit was submitted, neighboring property owners formed Canoe Valley Residents Association to protect the residents’ quality of life and their surrounding environment. Group members expressed their concerns about the impact the quarry could have including truck traffic, blasting and other annoyances.
In 2011, supervisors agreed to renew the permit for five years on a 4-1 vote.