Dust in the Wind

From behind the counter of his Mobil station and mini-mart in Sister Bay, owner Dave Lienau can easily monitor all four of his gas pumps. Well, usually he can.

Last summer he was watching a woman pump gas at the southernmost stall when she was completely engulfed by a cloud of dust.

“I couldn’t even see her,” Lienau said.

The gas station is located about a hundred yards in front of a quarry operation run by Door County Custom Stone, Inc. whose gravel driveway runs immediately adjacent to his pumps. When dump trucks haul away the limestone extracted from the quarry the trucks kick plumes of dust into the air that washes across his parking lot. In four years he’s never had to replace any of the credit card readers on his pumps, save for the one closest to the quarry driveway, which absorbs the brunt of the dust. That credit card scanner has been replaced three times, and Lienau attributes it to the dust getting blown into it.

“They’re trying to operate a business, and I don’t begrudge anyone trying to operate a business,” Lienau said. “But that business shouldn’t interfere with other businesses and residents.”

Leinau would like to see the driveway paved and other steps taken at the quarry itself, such as the planting of foliage or installation of sprinkler system to dampen it on dry days, to remediate the problem. So would the Village of Sister Bay, whose Administrator, Bob Kufrin, has issued four nuisance citations to the quarry’s owner, David Small, Ph.D. for dust blowing off the property.

The citations refer to section 66.0802 of the zoning code, which prohibits “any activity which emits dust sufficient to constitute a nuisance to abutting property owners,” as well as a failure to implement erosion control measures, pave the driveway, and obtain a zoning permit for the placement of an accessory structure on the property.

Small, an Appleton psychologist who bought the quarry as an investment in 2004, said the citations are unfair and will fight them in court, with a hearing slated for July 23 at 1:30 pm. He contends that he has built up berms around the property and seeded them, but his plantings have not yet grown. He said the “structure” referred to in one of the citations is a trailer used to haul equipment, and the dust problem is coming from Pamida, not his quarry.

In a letter to several village officials and committee members dated Sept. 25, 2007, he lashed out at Kufrin, calling him “unprofessional” for sending the citations via fax and giving him only six days to submit a mitigation plan. He said the fax was the first time he had heard of any complaints about the quarry operation from the village or neighbors.

Small labeled the action as an abuse of power, ending his letter by writing “It is unfortunate that persons such as the Kufrins of the world seek out power for their personal sadistic needs.”

Kufrin said the citations only came after numerous complaints from citizens and board discussion of the matter.

As for Small’s letter, Kufrin said “I’ve never won by saying bad things about somebody else.”

Lienau and Tom Sadler, another neighbor who has concerns about the noise from the quarry, each admit they never contacted Small about their concerns prior to the issuance of the citations. Lienau, a village trustee, has recused himself from board discussions on the issue.

“The dust only became an issue when Pamida redid its parking lot,” Small said. “I have pictures and videos showing that the dust is coming from Krist’s property and Pamida. There’s no way to make any quarry 100 percent dust-free, but the dust causing the problem is not from my property.”

He is in full compliance with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and said he can’t pave the driveway because Keith Krist, whom he purchased the quarry from, owns it. He said he’s offered to work with Krist to do so but has not received a response. Attempts to reach Krist for comment were unsuccessful.

Sadler, Lienau, and others have also complained about the beeping emitted by trucks at the quarry, which they said can be heard for about a mile in any direction. But Kufrin said the beeping is a necessary safety feature mandated and regulated by MSHA, a federal agency.

“The neighbors have to understand that the quarry was there long before they built their homes,” Small said. “It’s nothing new.”

Sadler said he was aware of the quarry but claimed it was barely operational for nearly a decade.

“I knew there was a hole, and maybe once a year someone would go in there and crush stone,” he said. “But that’s not what’s going on now.”

Small said he considers the complaints and citations “more harassment than anything,” and argued his business deserves better treatment. “We have 42 employees, we received a loan from the Door County Economic Development Corporation, and we’ve invested millions of dollars in these properties.”

Lienau said the quarry employees are nice guys who have voluntarily slowed down to a crawl when going down the driveway to lessen the problem, but that hasn’t solved the problem and he continues to get customer complaints and lose business because dust blows over from the quarry and affects customers. He and Sadler said the impasse ultimately comes down to the attitude of Small.

“His response is, ‘well, we’re legal,’” Lienau said. “He has no intention of doing anything unless he’s forced. We’d like him to just be a good neighbor.”