Gardner residents have convinced their town officials to adopt a nine-month moratorium on new or expanded mining operations.
Their successful lobby, however, won’t prevent a quarry from being opened next door to them, according to the town’s attorney.
Taylor Pluff with Pinkert Law Firm said that because the landowner had already applied for permits to open the quarry, the town’s regulations existing at the time of the application would still apply.
“So basically, it freezes time,” Pluff said. “If the applications were denied, that would in essence start the clock over again.”
The moratorium the town board adopted Nov. 17 only pauses new or expanding mining operations for nine months to give the town time to develop a mining ordinance that would regulate operations for future sites. The town may also research town-wide land-use zoning, as some residents are advocating.
“The whole thing stems to [the fact that] we don’t have zoning,” said Town Board Chair Mark Stevenson. “However, people build out here for that reason.”
The Town of Gardner has no zoning to control land uses and no ordinances regulating mines. That lack of regulation signaled a green light that Scott Franda, who purchased the property off Stevenson Pier Road earlier this year, could open a limestone quarry at the site, which he plans to mine for the next 20-40 years in 10-acre quadrants.
All Franda needed to make this happen was approval from the Door County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) on a post-operation reclamation plan and a stormwater permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR also flagged the location for special reviews because of the presence of the endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly, the threatened long-eared bat, a northern hardwood swamp and a bat hibernaculum (cave).
No permits have been granted yet, according to Joe Baeten, a regional watershed management team supervisor with the DNR who would issue the state’s stormwater permit; and Greg Coulthurst, a conservationist with the Door County SWCD who oversees the county’s nonmetallic mining ordinance.
Baeten said the investigation into the endangered resources has not been concluded, and neither has his department issued the necessary stormwater permit. Coulthurst said he’s waiting for the DNR approvals and has until the end of the year to make a decision on the reclamation plan.
The reclamation plan is a blueprint for post-mining land use; it does not govern mining operations. There is, in fact, nothing in place to govern the actual operation.
The neighbors, some of whom live within 100 feet of the first mining quadrant, learned about the quarry only after the SWCD sent out notification letters about the reclamation plan Sept. 23.
Meanwhile, Franda didn’t purchase the property until after he had taken his idea to Stevenson as early as December 2019, and to the town’s Plan Commission after the first of this year.
“It’s unfortunate, and I feel if we had been appropriately informed when our town chairman learned of the quarry potential in January 2020, we would have been able to adopt appropriate zoning to protect the safety of citizens in this neighborhood,” said Amber May, who has worked with her husband, Justin, to get the moratorium in place.
The Mays and other neighbors of the proposed quarry fear the operation will create air, water and noise pollution, potentially damaging the health of their families. They’re also concerned that their quality of life will be ruined, as will their property values.
“This is now going to cost the town money due to the loss in property value since we will be requesting a third-party tax assessor to come and make adjustments to all the neighbors’ homes and properties so that we can have the tax base adjusted to the new values,” said Dave Pizzala, whose property borders the land where the new mine will begin its operation.
The town’s Plan Commission is the body that will work on the mining ordinance and/or zoning process during the next nine months.
Rachel Cromell, who lives with Kyle Wogsland about 100 feet from where the quarry would be started, said she intends to be a part of that process, starting with the first meeting Nov. 23. She also hopes that other Door County towns that don’t have zoning or mining ordinances will use the Town of Gardner’s experience as a cautionary tale to get something in place and, Cromell said, “really spare the headaches and conflict we are going through.”